The Resolution Foundation think tank highlights what it refers to as two key successes in the response to the pandemic – the vaccine rollout and support to protect businesses and employees.
But the report, published ahead of the first anniversary of the UK’s lockdown, said the biggest failure has been imposing restrictions too late, costing thousands of lives and deepening the economic crisis.
It estimates that delaying January’s lockdown led to around an extra 25,000 Covid-related deaths in England compared to if restrictions were put in place earlier to prevent the death rate rising from early December.
Restrictions that were belatedly introduced then needed to be tighter and longer lasting, meaning the UK has experienced amongst the strictest overall social distancing measures of the G7 countries over the past year.
This suggests why the UK suffered the sharpest economic hit from the crisis among these nations, according to the research.
It said the Government had delivered in its economic support for workers and their families, through the furlough scheme, benefits uplift and grants for companies and the self-employed.
Of the £340 billion of crisis-related spending, the report found some £186 billion related specifically to support for households, amounting to around £6,700 per household in the UK.
This support meant that typical household incomes have remained flat and firm insolvencies have fallen, despite the economy experiencing its biggest contraction in over 300 years.
But the report notes that while aggregate savings have surged during the crisis, the poorest households have seen their savings deteriorate and debts rise rather than fall.
The foundation also calls the vaccination programme a success, with over 25 million first doses administered at over three times the rate of that in the EU.
Referring to the vaccine rollout and economic support, Mike Brewer, chief economist at the Resolution Foundation, said: “On both, the strategy of going big, bold and early has clearly paid off.
“In contrast, going timidly and late on lockdowns has been a disaster – causing many thousands of avoidable deaths.
“Furthermore, delays to restrictions have meant them needing to be tougher and longer-lasting than in other countries, thereby worsening the economic damage.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has touched everyone, but lower-income families have borne the brunt of the crisis in terms of their lives and livelihoods. This shouldn’t be forgotten as we look to rebuild post-pandemic Britain.”
A UK Government spokeswoman said: “Our focus throughout the pandemic has been to protect the NHS and save lives and we have always been guided by data and scientific advice.
“In December, as soon as we became aware that the new variant was significantly more transmissible than other strains, we acted quickly and decisively to introduce stricter measures.
“This pandemic has challenged health systems around the world, but thanks to a wealth of experience, research and advice, we now have a successful vaccination programme, numerous treatments, a test and trace system that has carried out more tests than any other comparable European nation as well as a world leading genomics sequencing system to find new variants.
“As we have previously said, there will be an appropriate time in the future to look back, analyse and reflect on all aspects of this global pandemic.”