A request for recognition: Early analysis of our survey of organisations (Part 4)

Molly Gilmour shares more early findings from our survey of organisations.

Key Findings

  • People affected by Covid have felt unheard by decision makers during the COVID-19 pandemic, the implications of which has taken a toll on their mental health
  • Organisations urge the Scottish Government to recognise and preserve working partnerships that were created during the pandemic
  • The short-term financial support for organisations was highlighted as insufficient as COVID and subsequent implications will be long-term

Molly Gilmour shares early findings from a survey disseminated across Scottish organisations working with Refugees and asylum-seekers facing destitution (RAD); survivors of domestic abuse or sexual violence (DASV); those affected by the criminal justice system (CJS); and those living with disability or long-term health condition (DHC). This survey explored the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their services and staff. This is the fourth blog to be written from this survey, former findings have documented the impact of funding insecurity, some positives of lockdown and some of the changes in service provision.

This analysis will discuss the 47 responses, received between 28 July 2020 and 21 August 2020 by 41 organisations, to the following survey question:

We are feeding our research into Scottish national and local governments. Is there anything you would like to ensure they hear about your organisation’s experience, or the experiences of those you work with?

Digital Divides

Many organisations reflected on the switch to digitalisation of services in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and outlined that families living in poverty have not had access to the technology needed to access online services to receive the support needed. Furthermore, this transition to digitalisation was described as taking too long, for instance the use of video technology in the criminal justice system. An article in The Lancet (2020) explained how ‘any digital technology outside the Prison Authority’s direct control is inherently perceived as a risk’ and that despite rapid permissions, devices remained unavailable until the first pandemic peak had passed due to a prison’s inherent secure digital environment.  While some organisations proceeded with telephone support, many respondents recognised that non face to face services were not sufficient.

‘Face to face interpersonal contact should never be underestimated, so much nuanced information cannot be conveyed via text, email or Zoom/online conference calls’

(organisation working with survivors of domestic abuse)

While face to face working in many services was not advised, some organisations proceeded to continue to visit clients, though in different ways, for example meeting in gardens, public parks or at home where perceived necessary, to make sure that they can identify additional support when it was needed. A Social Work practitioner working with young unaccompanied asylum seekers shared that

‘We decided early on that telephone contact would not meet the needs of the young people and that to be left for several months in this situation would not be acceptable to us’.

“Nothing about us, without us, is for us”

The experience of communities not feeling heard was evident throughout responses to this survey. This was especially pertinent for organisations working with people effected by the criminal justice system. They explained that families affected by imprisonment were unable to see their relative in prison for weeks before virtual visits were introduced. The stress and pain of not seeing their loved ones took a toll on the mental health of these families, and criminal justice organisations documented in this survey that they didn’t feel concerns around this were heard.

‘People who experience poverty on a daily basis must be at the heart of shaping solutions – they are the experts who know what makes a difference’

(community development organisation supporting people leaving prison)

Increased transparency in the court process was identified as a solution for supporting the accountability of judgements, alongside mitigating the traumatic impact that the Covid-19 related criminal and civil court delays are having on those prosecuted, affected families and domestic abuse survivors. An organisation working with survivors of domestic abuse discussed the affect that Covid-19 is having on their client’s mental health, caused by the delays in court proceedings, as staff are witnessing an increase in suicidal thoughts, self-harm and coping through alcohol.

Covid-19 Community Response: The third sector “kept things afloat”

Organisations spoke of the wonderful partnership working that evolved in response to the pandemic. Respondents to the survey described how across communities resources were pooled when and where they were required to help those most in need. Staff working in community-based organisations requested that the Government capture the accomplishments that these new working partnerships achieved to evidence future policy planning and support the existing networks to sustain the effective and meaningful practice. For instance, the partnerships in Inverclyde across education, social care and the third sector were described as being ‘excellent and worth recognition’.

Grassroots organisations described how they quickly upscaled services at the beginning of the pandemic, to plug the gap created by inefficiencies of large and more bureaucratic statutory organisations in areas including food provision and mental health support. Respondents outlined that the adaptation to homeworking by statutory organisations took too long, and that they often either didn’t understand, or alternatively overlooked, the needs of the communities they worked with.

The feeling is that it was really the grass roots/third sector that really “kept things afloat” only to have our funding from HC threatened in the next year due to the council overspend.’

(Women’s Domestic Abuse Organisation)

A Request for Sustainable Financial Support

The short-term financial support for organisations that provided fundamental support during this period was highlighted an urgent issue for review by the Scottish Government, as the financial implications of Covid-19 will be long-term. Respondents explained that many people, particularly women, took on second or third jobs to try and pay for basic household essentials as their husbands had lost their jobs. Community organisations, such as food banks, are a lifeline for families in such dire financial situations. Staff working in these essential organisations were outlined as being ‘burnt out’, and an organisation working with survivors of sexual abuse explained that they expect to have an overwhelming demand for their service when face to face support resumes, and that this must be considered in future planning to ensure a healthy workforce. 

Furthermore, the survey identified the precarious financial situation that many women experience. For instance, the burden of unpaid labour completed by women was stressed which fuels economic abuse. A national income policy was proposed, as organisations argued that the Scottish Government should financially compensate this unpaid labour. In addition to this, a national income policy would support victims of economic abuse, a concern fuelled by the existing court delays, as they are not effectively prohibiting or punishing such behaviours from perpetrators. This national minimum income would also mitigate the precarity for the freelance and self-employed, and perceptions of favouritism that arose in response to the Covid-19 welfare payments, as short-term unemployed were described as being favourably treated compared to long-term unemployed.

Information & Accessibility: ‘Heading onto the Streets in Search of Outreach Teams

Organisations spoke of the lack of information and support received by populations who face destitution, are imprisoned, or reside in homeless shelters and people seeking asylum who were forcibly moved to hotels. Covid-19 was described as ‘nearly ending homelessness’ in the UK as it was reported that more than 90% of the country’s rough sleepers had been housed in accommodation during the Covid-19 crisis. However, the short-term approach of sheltering rough sleepers in the temporarily empty hostels and hotels was not a viable option to mitigate the long-term effects of Covid-19. These populations face multiple risks as they ‘head back onto the streets to beg and search for outreach teams’. The support offered to those housed at this time was described by staff as deplorable. An organisation working with people leaving prisons explained that their clients had been in hostels for months with no welfare checks. It is our understanding that through forcing populations into detention-like facilities, such as prisons or hotels, that information has not been effectively disseminated and people were detained in unsafe environments throughout this pandemic.    

Conclusion

These preliminary findings, while only indicative of the wealth of survey data, provide an insight into the manifold implications of Covid-19 on community-based organisations across Scotland. The pooling of resources for positive partnership working was described as a wonderful outcome of an arduous journey, however it is imperative that the resources needed to sustain this are recognised and supported by the Scottish Government. The mental health implications on staff, volunteers, and communities from responding to and living through the pandemic was described as an urgent issue which must be resolved. Organisations concluded that the long-term effects of Covid-19 will not be overcome by short-term solutions. For the wellbeing of staff, volunteers and the communities they work to support, the findings in this survey propose that sustainable funding from the Scottish Government and local councils alongside reciprocal and transparent communication must be realised.

Molly Gilmour (@MVGilmour) is a PhD researcher in Sociology at the University of Glasgow researching how community engagement methods can be used to improve humanitarian medical provision in Lebanon. She is Research Assistant in the Refugee, Asylum Seeker and populations facing Destitution steam of the Scotland in Lockdown study.

Reference(s):

Edge, C., Hayward, A., Whitfield, A., & Hard, J. (2020). COVID-19: digital equivalence of health care in English prisons. The Lancet Digital Health2(9), e450-e452.