Category Archives: Project News

Things are ‘the same’: Complicating OK narratives of prisoners during lockdown

In this briefing on the prisoner survey, Sarah Armstrong focuses on the curious and substantial number of prisoners who said life in prison was the same during Covid-19 as before the pandemic. Exploring comments and comparing them with those from prisoners who said things were worse or better, shows that ‘sameness’ may signal not so much that things were ok, but that the pressures and pains of prison were similar to and pre-existed lockdown.

Content warning: a quote towards the end of the article refers to suicide and violence.

As part of this research, our team designed and circulated a survey for prisoners, with assistance of the SPS Research Office. One question asked how various aspects of prison life had changed during Covid-19 compared to what it was like before the pandemic:

86 total respondents, not all answered all questionsBetterThe sameWorse
Life on the hall15%21%64%
Personal wellbeing20%30%50%
Safety18%38%43%
Access to support services6%23%71%
Family contact18%19%63%
Relationships with staff19%46%36%

It is perhaps not very surprising that majorities have said living conditions in prison got worse, and we know from comments that a minority of people have felt the prison response to Covid-19 alleviated some of the negative aspects of institutional life (noise, bullying, crowding). But we were surprised by the substantial numbers of respondents who reported that life in prison had not changed at all during pandemic lockdown.

In what ways might people feel life is just ‘the same’ during a pandemic that has touched the lives of almost every person on earth?

By analysing the comments of the survey focused on respondents who mostly marked ‘same’ responses to questions about pandemic impact, a complicated picture emerges about what sameness meant to prisoners, and how this might be interpreted in terms of the success of the Scottish response to pandemic. (Note: the survey was distributed only to sentenced prisoners. Our team also conducted interviews of people who had recently left prison and of family members of those in prison, not included in this analysis.)

By one measure, it is clear that life, even In Scottish prisons, did not remain the same. A dominant strategy not just in Scotland but in other parts of the world , despite international guidance, has been to keep people locked in their cells for up 22 to 23 hours a day. In Scotland, this was the norm between March and June, and could return with the second wave triggering outbreaks in prison. This effectively constituted solitary confinement for thousands of people over months.

In person visits were cancelled in all prisons from late March 2020, as were all activities in prison run with assistance of outside volunteers. Regular activities also were severely restricted between March and August when prisoners could not access the gym, education classes, or the library. Most prison jobs were also suspended. Meals were delivered to cells rather than eaten in dining halls. Opportunities to socialise or even speak to one another were limited to a few minutes per day. During the lockdown, participants told us that their access to showers was restricted to one every other day, and they were only able to clean their cell weekly. Services and activities continue to be restricted.

Saying things were the same, in this context, therefore becomes curious.

Same good and same bad

My life is not been adversely affected by the lockdown. (Man, 30s)

No change whatsoever.  (Man, 70s)

There was one sub-group of respondents to the prisoner survey who mostly said things had remained the same, which we refer to here as the ‘sameness’ group; this ranged from between one-fifth up to nearly half of respondents as summarised in the table).[1] Sameness responses in the survey were accompanied by sometimes just a short line of text as above. These comments display ambiguity, but tilt towards possible positive (the first quote) or negative (the second one) readings.

We explored this: the person above who said ‘no change whatsoever’ selected ‘the same’ about every aspect of how life had changed during Covid-19 (in addition to life on the hall and personal wellbeing, they also said relationships with staff, family, other prisoners; safety had stayed the same). However, they answered in the strongest negative terms for almost all of the questions about keeping well mentally and physically in prison, selecting ‘never’ in response to questions about having healthy and varied food, a routine, access to outdoors, exercise.

This response pattern flagged up the possibility that feeling things were the same in prison during a pandemic as before, was not because prisons had managed to keep the lockdown’s effects away from prisoners but because prison was already experienced as deeply isolating and limiting. This is a theme arising in other parts of our study, from participants in other kinds of situations like being a refugee – the pandemic may have upended the sense of ‘normal’ for many of us, but was merely a continuation, sometimes amplified, of the already abnormal and alienating conditions of others.

The sense of things being the same but just amplified is evident in further respondents from the ‘sameness’ group:

Everything has [been] pretty much the same apart from getting dinner earlier and locked up earlier at night. (Man, 30s)

The regime has not changed that much apart from our being locked up almost twenty-three hours per day due to social distancing apart from no recreation there is no change. (Man, 50s)

Worse as ever?

Taking the insight emerging from these sameness responses, we dug further into comments and compared those of the ‘sameness’ group with those who had mostly said things had gotten worse or gotten better during the pandemic lockdown.

Here’s a typical comment from someone who selected responses mainly indicating a feeling of life getting much worse during Covid-19, while in prison:

‘Not much family visits. Less freedom within the prison ie, being able to go to both sides of the hall. Can’t cook food bought on canteen due to mealtimes. Always receiving worthless print outs about COVID. Locked much more than usual’ (Man, 30s)

Compare this to a comment from a prisoner who said things were much better during Covid-19:

I wouldn’t say it’s changed much, I’m currently in [prison], but my family are from the [rural] area so the virtual visits are a big bonus, as I’ve no person on person visits. Getting out of cell with smaller groups also helped me as I get anxious in big groups/crowds. … I also miss recreational time at night times as at the moment it’s in the mornings. The staff that have dealt with me have been amazing! Being locked up from 4.40pm everyday, I think we should [get] art packs, bigger options for dvds and books, just something for us prisoners to do to pass the time. (Woman, 30s)

For this person who had been unable to benefit when face to face visits had been allowed, the introduction of technology to manage the loss of such visits meant the pandemic lockdown response had actually constituted an improvement to their situation.

It is hard to distinguish these ‘better’ and ‘worse’ groups, from the sameness group. Here are some more reflections from the sameness group describing life under pandemic lockdown:

Not having visits, physical and mental health getting worse, lack of social life. (Man, 60s)

It’s been quite bad and early dub up [being locked in cell for the evening] also visit[s] have been cancelled which is shocking, I think. (Man, 30s)

The similarities of comments among all prisoners, regardless of whether they rated life in prison during Covid-19 better, worse or the same, is interesting and suggests some further implications. First of all, we should treat survey data on prison experience generally with caution, as the contextualisation of statistics gains added importance for contexts like prison which are in many ways exceptional. Second, and tied to this, the exceptionality of prison experience seemed to be about a sense of prison-normal as something which had already inflicted the pains of lockdown those outside prison are encountering during the pandemic for the first time: minimal family and social contact, mental health damage, boredom, limited autonomy over daily life. Prisoners responded to the pandemic exacerbation of these constraints by rating it the same, better or worse, but underlying this is a sense of a shared perception of prison, differing only about whether this is worth remarking on or being upset about.

Sameness: the exceptional becomes normal

Many comments from prisoners responding to our survey mentioned feelings of being forgotten or bottom of the list for concern about pandemic impact. A few saw the pandemic as raising awareness of problems that pre-existed it (from a long-term prisoner who felt things were much worse during Covid-19):

“I’ve seen guys hanging from bunk beds not a nice sight I’ve seen stabbings, slashings, fights, scaldings. How is a place like this good for anyone[‘s] mental health[;] why has it took for the pandemic for people to ask about our mental health.” (Man, 40s)

The majority of respondents shared negative perspectives of life in prison during lockdown, but this is hard to disentangle from the hardness of life generally in prison. So much is already taken away from imprisoned people, borrowing from Giorgio Agamben’s biopolitics concept, it seems that ‘bare life’ is hardly able to be made more bare by the incursion of pandemic. Agamben employed the idea of bare life to posit a state of society and politics where the exceptional becomes normal, and the sanctity of the person breaks down for some groups. Prisoners might be one such group, and their reflections in the survey offer some evidence of what he called an ‘inclusive exclusion’, a group around whom a discourse of rights swirls but a reality of exclusion and denial prevails.

The fact that descriptions of 22 to 23 hours a day locked in the confined space of a prison cell were common and were seen as just slightly worse than what prison normally felt like, should be a cause for concern not celebration. We will be documenting further analyses of the prisoner survey, sharing powerful accounts of how the lockdown within prisons has entailed profound suffering for those inside, and for their loved ones outside prison.

Here, we have explored how claims of lockdown not making prison life worse, actually reveal damaging aspects of prison in ordinary times. In a prison system officially focused on rehabilitation and governed through human rights-based frameworks, the seeming acceptance of draconian measures on the grounds of reducing Covid-19 risk, suggests not the support of people redeeming their citizenship but the conditioning of people to accept their subordination, “conveying the implicit state request to be compliant” as Javier Auyero put it in his ethnography of poor people’s waiting experiences.

The final quote below, from an imprisoned woman serving a life sentence who rated life as the same, shows both how little human intimacy those in prison received even before Covid-19, and how vital this is for coping with institutionalisation:

I miss my Social Contact like a wee hug after visit. (Woman, 50s)

The new normal is not new at all for those in prison, and shows how the pandemic is merely one more burden to be managed and marker of people as less deserving of care.

Sarah Armstrong @SarahAinGlasgow (she/they) is Professor of Criminology at the University of Glasgow. She is co-lead of the Scotland in Lockdown study. Her research mainly focuses on prisons and punishment.


[1] This was Question 4 in our survey (How do the following compare during Covid-19 to life before), and included sub-questions about life on the hall, personal wellbeing, relationships, safety and access to services. Response options were: much worse, worse, the same, better, much better.

Launch event: Left out and locked down | 17 Dec 2020

University of Glasgow logo
Scotland in lockdown: How have covid-19 measures affected your life?

Date: Thursday 17th December

Time: 11am for 75 mins

Registration: This event will take place online via Zoom, register on Eventbrite here

Please join us on 17 December at 11am for a 75-minute webinar launching the results of a major University of Glasgow study. Researchers spent six months studying the lockdown experiences of four groups especially impacted by exclusion and marginalisation.

The Scotland in Lockdown study (official study title: “Health and Social Impacts of Covid-19 Suppression in Scotland for Vulnerable Groups”) is funded by the Chief Scientist Office, Scottish Government, under its rapid Covid-19 research programme.

Partnering with 20 third sector organisations, the University of Glasgow researchers, led by co-PIs Sarah Armstrong and Lucy Pickering, focused on four groups:

  • Refugees and asylum-seekers facing destitution;
  • People in prison and otherwise affected by the criminal justice systems;
  • Survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence;
  • Disabled people and those living with a long-term health condition

The event marks the launch of the project report and its key messages. Over 250 participants in the study allow us to hear the voices of those facing particular hardships of Covid-19 lockdown through:

  • Barriers of information to understanding risks and following guidance around Covid-19
  • Impacts and experiences of isolation, food security, childcare and destitution
  • Changing access to services and the added pressure on third sector and statutory providers

More details to follow, including confirmed speakers and structure of the event. This webinar will be of interest to people affected by these issues, practitioners, policy makers, academics and media.

Registration

Please register your attendance via Eventbrite by clicking the link below and you will be emailed a link in advance of the event.

Experiences of sex workers during lockdown

Sex workers’ lives and livelihoods have been acutely impacted by Covid-19. Kristina Saunders shares insights from interviews with service providers about the pressures on this uniquely marginalised group.

The Scotland in Lockdown study has four study areas each focusing on marginalised groups and the relevant services. Interviews with third sector organisations in Scotland who support victim-survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence shone a light on the specific challenges faced by sex workers during the pandemic. Service providers raised issues around income and safety, and revealed concerns about organisational ability to appropriately meet the needs of sex workers during this time. Our research is reinforcing messages reported elsewhere about the pressures on an especially marginalised group. (Abbreviations used: SW = sex work, DASV = Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence.)

Income and financial support

Covid-19 lockdown and social distancing measures have intensified the social and economic marginalization experienced by sex workers. As one service provider reported, the need to halt face-to-face meetings between sex workers and clients has “resulted in a dramatic loss of income for some and a further pressure on already strained finances for others” (staff member at DASV organisation). Reduced income has resulted in difficulties repaying debt and paying for essentials such as food and rent, raising concerns from interviewees about the real possibility of increased homelessness due to evictions, and that some sex workers will have to give up additional rented properties that they work from. However, organisations also reported that continuing to meet with clients was an inevitability for some sex workers despite the health risk in order to make ends meet.

Though not all sex workers have the digital resources to do so, organisations were aware of a marked increase of selling sex online via webcamming or subscription based sites such as Only Fans. This is true not only amongst those who are already involved in the sex industry, but there has also been an “influx of new women” (staff member at SW and DASV organisation) previously employed in other sectors whose jobs and income have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. Organisations reported that this proliferation in numbers has resulted in increased competition and “less income all round” for all of those working on online platforms.

A lack of financial support for sex workers was also raised during interviews. Informal employment status combined with fears of stigma and criminalization prevents access to government initiatives implemented during the pandemic such as the furlough scheme, and to receiving benefits such as Universal Credit and Self Employment Support. As one practitioner stated:

You’re self-employed but you’ve got no proof that you’ve been earning.  You’re not employed, so you can’t be furloughed.  You don’t want to claim benefits because they’re going to ask you what you’ve been doing and what you’ve done with all that money (staff member at DASV organisation)

As has been reported elsewhere, the complicated application process and limited support offered by Universal Credit and the furlough scheme (and barriers to accessing benefits due to having no recourse to public funds) can also be push factors to entering the sex industry as financial needs are not met. However, interviewees also reported that some Scottish Government funding has been made available for organisations to refer sex workers to, and some service providers have been directly involved with government funding meetings to make specific needs known. However, some sex-worker led organisations have faced barriers to accessing the funds made available by the Scottish Government, and have collectively organised to provide mutual aid to those they support.

Staying safe online

The shift to online sex work has also led to heightened concerns about safety, especially for those who are new to this area of the industry. As discussed by one practitioner:

Things like making sure you don’t do webcam when you’ve got your window behind you so they can see the shop across the road and that kind of thing…it’s dead easy for a punter to say, ‘oh, I know where that is’, and then turn up to the flat or whatever (Staff member at SW and DASV organisation)

Interviewees were also aware of the heightened pressures around income that led to some sex workers “pushing their boundaries or having their boundaries pushed” (staff member at DASV organisation) and engaging in more explicit and potentially violent work online. The increased risk of exposure and images being shared or leaked from online sites was also raised, along with the possibility of coercion and blackmail that may occur in conjunction. This was said to create issues around personal safety that may lead to added distress for sex workers who fear being found out by those close to them, as well as concerns around child removal.

Accessing support

One service provider expressed concerns about the support their organisation was able to offer to sex workers during the pandemic. As a relatively new service, it was difficult to create awareness about the support on offer, especially for those new to sex work who may not have information about keeping safe online or know where to access this. Echoing findings from across our research, the removal of face-to-face support can be difficult for service users and providers when trying to create and sustain meaningful supportive relationships via online or telephone communication. This practitioner referred to the lack of engagement with an anonymous online chat launched via the organisation’s website, and felt this to be a difficult place to share “really personal details about either selling and exchanging sex and webcamming or about trauma…You’ve no idea where that goes once you click that send button” (staff member at SW and DASV organisation).

There are also barriers to receiving online and telephone support for those who are digitally excluded (a key theme raised in our research), and some sex-worker led organisations have worked hard to address this issue in the absence of in-person support. Concerns were also raised by organisations about the challenges to accessing support for mental distress and substance use at this time, which are highlighted in this piece from The Lancet as key areas for intervention to ensure sex worker-centred services during and after the pandemic.

The issues discussed here offer only a preliminary insight from an organisational perspective into the heightened inequalities sex workers have experienced during the pandemic. With the tightening of Covid-19 restrictions, it is vital that an inclusive approach that listens to and acts on the voices of sex workers is taken, to ensure their safety and wellbeing as we continue to move through the pandemic and beyond.

Kristina Saunders (@KristinaS) is an investigator in the Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Stream of the Scotland in Lockdown study. She is also a postdoctoral tutor in sociology at the University of Glasgow, with broad research interests in gender and inequalities in sexual and reproductive health.

Hunger, health, dependence and autonomy: Food issues during lockdown

Molly Gilmour, Dominic Reed and Phillippa Wiseman explore the subject of food and how it affected interview populations during lockdown. The availability of not just food, but the right kinds of food, had a huge impact on the mental and physical wellbeing of participants from all the research streams in the project.

Food has played a central role in understanding how Covid-19 (and state responses) has shaped everyone’s experiences. While recipes for banana bread and sourdough starters circulated amongst some, supermarket delivery slots and mould ridden food packages featured prominently in daily lockdown lives for others. Food and its availability during the lockdown, was a common theme stemming from over 130 interviews and observed across all four groups of the project:  with refugees and people seeking asylum or 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). In many cases, participants (and the staff members working in organisations supporting them) mentioned issues in obtaining food (and the right kinds of food) as a result of the measures imposed during the pandemic.

But these difficulties, and how they were addressed, revealed more about conceptions of what food represented to different groups of people and how its provision (or lack thereof) was informed by the preconceived notions of these groups. To properly analyse the findings related to food, we are compiling a working paper which will be shared as part of the emerging findings of this research in the coming weeks. This blog offers an abridged account of these findings.

Food security: An issue prior to the pandemic 

The rising cost of living in tandem with low-paid insecure employment has increased the number of people living in Scotland experiencing food insecurity. Covid-19 has both amplified and exacerbated these numbers: by mid -April 2020 the Food Foundation reported that 600,000 adults in Scotland were facing food insecurity.  The subsequent austerity measures that are likely to be created in response to the impending recession caused by Covid-19, is expected to be equal to or worse than that in 2008, and will inevitably worsen food insecurity for  groups who already experience systemic inequalities and marginalisation.

In a letter to the British Retail Consortium in April 2020, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) outlined their concerns about disabled people, who fall outside the government’s high-risk groups, being left unable to shop for food and essential items during the Covid-19 pandemic and left to decide whether they should shield or not (due to unclear and changing messaging). In May 2020, the Scottish Human Rights Commission outlined that food insecurity was already at an unacceptably high level and that some people who were not eligible for government support have not been reached by food distribution programmes run by government or charities. The specific barriers to food access for asylum seekers and refugees, disabled people, carers, and women and children was explained, and the authors cautioned that there is a risk that asylum seekers and disabled people may become increasingly dependent on food banks models due to Covid-19.   

Food and health

Difficulty in accessing food and the effects this had on health, was mentioned by participants in all groups included in the research. Several participants referred to health issues caused (directly or indirectly) by access to food. Issues in accessing food often acted to compound the sense of isolation that participants had. Other participants spoke about illness as a barrier to accessing food when they have long-term health conditions. For many, difficulty in accessing appropriate food often meant that they simply did without, noting that this had detrimental effects on both their physical and mental wellbeing. For participants with long-term health conditions such as diabetes, Chrohn’s disease, colitis (and other dietary and digestive conditions) having access to required food was essential.

Increasing reliance on the voluntary sector

What emerged throughout the course of interviews was the increasingly pivotal role played by third sector organisations in supporting the food needs of service users (often in the absence of meaningful support from statutory services ). This then had a huge impact on staff welfare and wellbeing, as they were required to undertake larger workloads in order to ensure that services users received the food they needed. Food deliveries, made possibly by the voluntary and third sector, frequently facilitated a sense of community and played a significant role in responding to isolation. Thus, organisations providing food serves an important purpose also of social connection and human/compassionate communication.

Food, dependence and autonomy

Crucially, our interviews showed the clear link between the availability of food, and the autonomy of those who might already have been isolated and excluded before the advent of Covid. Too often, a lack of access to food, or the right kinds of food, left people in a situation where they were reliant on others, be they neighbours, family members/friends or supportive organisations. This risked not only eroding people’s sense of self-worth, but also meant that many were unable to exercise any kind of control over the type of food they received. Too often this led to situations where people had to eat things that were not culturally appropriate or which they feared could have a detrimental affect on their physical health. The only other option, many thought, was to go without eating regularly, which many did.

The lack of access to food and lack of control over food decisions, then fed into existing inequalities and feelings of marginalisation and isolation. For example, refugees and asylum seekers, living in temporary accommodation, sometimes already feeling disempowered by their experiences with the immigration process (a process over which they felt they had little control), were then also unable to decide what food they wanted to eat, food which often, prior to lockdown provided a tangible reminder of the countries they had travelled from and which allowed an expression of their identity and community. Like refugees and asylum seekers, people with learning disabilities, women experiencing coercive control and people in criminal justice settings already lack autonomy over food, food choices and buying food.  It meant that disabled people and those with long term health conditions had less control over the food they ate, in some cases having to eat things which negatively affected their health conditions. Food insecurity has also placed additional pressure on victims and survivors of domestic violence to safely feed their children. For many survivors, the constraints imposed by the Covid-19 lockdown, forced them to relive past experiences of abuse where they were isolated and robbed of control in their lives by perpetrators.

Conclusion

The Covid-19 pandemic has laid bare Scotland’s reliance on the third sector to meet fundamental socio-economic rights for people living in our communities. People living in Scotland should not be reliant on food provided by charitable, community led initiatives for an extended period. Yet our findings suggest that an institutionalised reliance on foodbanks, left many people with no access to food: those we spoke to were unable to afford to travel to foodbanks and could not shop at a supermarket as they were shielding. Moreover, some had to choose whether to eat food that was culturally unsuitable or  that made them unwell. This is a finding consistent with the Scottish Human Rights Commission in May 2020, who identified that the  food provided by charities to BAME communities, asylum seekers and Gypsy/Travellers did not show awareness of cultural requirements or the limited facilities for cooking and eating affecting these groups .

A dignified food access model, such as providing  cash first, will enable people to have access to nutritious and culturally relevant food. Furthermore, key stakeholders including retailers, must take a collaborative approach, which looks specifically at how to meet the needs of individuals. As we progress through the Covid-19 pandemic, it is becoming ever more clear see how policies are affecting the lives of people. The Scottish Government must ensure that access to nutritious, culturally relevant, sustainable and safe food at all times, is at the heart of decisions that realise human rights and address inequalities.    

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 stream of the study.

Dr Dominic Reed is a Research Associate in the Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence stream. He recently completed doctoral research at the University of Glasgow into medical confidentiality and domestic abuse.

Dr Phillippa Wiseman (@PhillyWiseman) is a Lecturer in Social Research Methods at the University of Glasgow. Her research focuses on disability; gender, violence and inequality and everyday embodied citizenship. Phillippa is a Co-Investigator and stream lead of the Disability and Health Conditions stream.

Capacities and demands in times of crisis: Impacts on service provision

This briefing draws upon our survey of staff experiences at 56 organisations providing services to marginalised groups in Scotland.

As support becomes remote and moves online, concerns have been raised about impacts on relationships between staff and service users, but also between community organisations and communities at large. Some services have seen significant spikes in demand and the brunt of meeting these demands is falling unequally on smaller organisations that have fewer resources but refuse to turn anyone away.

Read the briefing by clicking on the link below.

Change and Challenge: Personal impacts for staff supporting vulnerable groups

Sarah Armstrong shares findings from our survey of organisations. Staff have been stepping up to the increased demands on services, but this has not happened without some negative impacts on their wellbeing.

The pandemic required significant change to the way work is done in organisations supporting the most isolated and marginalised. This has initiated some changes that may be positive for organisations resulting in better ways of working post-pandemic. However, on a personal level, most respondents mentioned negative impacts, some quite severe, of their work. This was particularly the case for those working or volunteering in services supporting domestic abuse and sexual violence survivors. Exhaustion, feeling overwhelmed and the emotional toll of working in one’s own home to support those facing destitution, hunger and safety concerns was large. This work is also gendered, with many more women than men responding to the survey.

This briefing reports on an analysis of two questions in our organisational survey about the personal impacts on staff in organisations working with excluded and isolated people; paraphrased, these are:

  • Since lockdown until now, have you or others in your organisation used personal resources to continue your service or carry out your work?
  • Please list the ways you or your staff have been affected during the pandemic.

A note on method: A total of 63 responses were received from 56 different organisations taking the survey between July and October 2020. For this analysis, about 40 open-ended comments were analysed in addition to closed question responses. Respondents generally worked in one of the four areas that are the focus of this study: refugees and asylum-seekers (RAD), domestic abuse and sexual violence (DASV), disability and long-term health condition( DHC) or criminal justice system involvement (CJS). Some worked in multiple areas and were categorised as BAME women’s or community development organisations. The most responses were received from DASV and RAD services. See the briefing About the Survey.

Stepping up to the challenge, wearing down from the pressure – divergent messages

There was no uniform way that staff responded to or were affected by working during a pandemic. “Different people within the team have experienced COVID differently” (Staff member at CJS organisation). This had to do with a person’s home situation and relationships, the kind of work they do and whether they had been affected by Covid-19. “Some have coped very well, while others are struggling.” (Staff member at a different CJS organisation)

There were challenges associated both with living with others (partner, children; see below) and those living on their own. For the latter, boredom, isolation and the loss of social interaction from work were issues.

“I was feeling very isolated whilst working because of my living situation so I felt lonely and found it hard to manage emotions for a while.” (Staff member at DASV organisation)

We also note some divergence in responses corresponding to the role that respondents had in their organisations: 33 (52%) worked at an Executive, Senior Management (of policy or strategy), while 27 (43%) played an operational, direct services role. Executives and senior managers tended to praise the ways their teams had stepped up to the challenge of adapting to working in a pandemic and also to give examples of how they were supporting staff.

“We have conducted individual interviews with every member of staff about their work environments, wellbeing, and concerns about the return to the workplace.” (Staff member at CJS organisation)

Those directly providing services or overseeing those who do shared more negative comments about how the personal impacts of work (and see below):

“I feel completely isolated and unsupported. the informal support you get from being in an office or around other workers can be small be makes a massive difference to how you are impacted by day to day situations.” (Staff member at DASV organisation)

Paying to help, but that’s (mostly) ok

A graph showing the personal resources staff have needed to use in order to carry out their work, with a majority using their own non-work phone, non-work computer and other personal equipment, and almost a third needing to use their own money.

Most people are using their own phones (78%) and computers (62%) to work from home. (Some noted this was temporary.) A majority are also using other personal items or resources (56%), such as stationery, buying office workstation equipment and furniture, or commented on the costs of heating, lighting and other utilities (e.g. to support internet access). Nearly a third (30%) mentioned using their own money to support their work.

However, despite some of the more surprising comments about personally paying to support their work, most commented that this was not a problem, and might even be thought of as a duty. To be sure, some raised concerns about blurred boundaries or sustainability of this, but others said:

“It’s normal. We are all volunteers and use our own gear and make little claim on our finances.” (Staff member at DHC organisation)

“every person I feel has a moral responsibility to do what they can. Any personal resource I have used is because I choose to.” (Staff member at community development organisation)

In contrast, questions that asked about personal impact of working during a pandemic revealed a number of more concerning impacts on people’s homes, relationships and lives. These themes are presented next.

A graph showing the ways that staff members have been affected during the pandemic, with many reporting longer hours, more time off due to sick leave, increased stress and anxiety, and a negative effect on home life.

Paying through worsening health and wellbeing, and it’s not ok

Exhaustion ran through comments from survey respondents: exhausting work, exhaustion managing work and home life, growing levels of fatigue in doing emotionally demanding labour.

This toll is reflected in the numbers:

  • 62% said they experienced stress or anxiety working during the pandemic
  • 52% are working longer hours
  • 32% had taken sick leave (non-Covid-19, often stress-related)

 And in open-ended comments:

“Huge impact on my health and wellbeing. Nightmares about going to work, teeth grinding, panic attacks. Pain from unsuitable desk. Tension within the team over handling of the situation. Considering leaving this job.” (Staff member at DASV organisation)

The stresses of work related to shifting to online forms of working, maintaining links with service users, looking after children and more. We do note that a minority of people said their working life had not changed much (6 respondents) and/or their mental and physical health had not been significantly affected (8). For most, however, we saw a high personal cost especially for people working to support those surviving domestic violence, as can be seen by the larger proportion of comments coming from this group than other areas of work.

“The staff are burnt out and our levels of secondary traumatisation/ vicarious trauma have likely increased a great deal.” (Staff member at DASV organisation, responding to a question about messages for Government)

It is notable that this kind of work is also gendered: where we could infer gender from responses (in 41 cases), 83% of responses were received from women.

Tough work intruding into home life

Eroding boundaries between work and home life as well as the specific challenges of looking after and schooling children at home were dominant themes of comments. Nearly 60% of respondents (36 people) said their home life or relationships had been affected by working in a pandemic. This often was connected to the nature of work people do. Confidential and distressing information were aspects of people’s work that accompanied a sense of feeling overwhelmed and stressed.

“I have worked continuously during lockdown in addition to looking after and homeschooling two small primary school age children at home 24/7 so I have had many double shifts and early mornings/late nights working around family needs. This has been stressful and exhausting.” (Staff member at DASV organisation)

“Supporting survivors in workers own homes has been difficult, invasion of personal, private, safe place for workers.” (Staff member at DASV organisation)

“I have no dedicated space in my home that is private enough to have conversations about abuse, child protection and risk assessment and am exposing my own children to language that they would not normally be exposed to.” (Staff member at DASV organisation)

Respondents mentioned a few of the issues that illustrate the emotional intensity of their work such as helping people who are dealing with, for example: destitution, hunger and food issues, suicidal thoughts and mental health challenges, and rape and abuse.

Adapting, and sometimes finding better ways of working

Change and challenge were clear themes of how working has shifted during the pandemic. For managers/executives, this meant covering staff gaps due to sickness or new demand, securing necessary equipment for staff and service users and finding ways to support their staff, e.g. through: team or one-to-one meetings to check-in, ensuring annual leave is taken and so on. (See also our briefing on Funding.)

“I think we as a team have managed as well as we could under the circumstances and tried to keep offering support. Always with high anxiety that we might be placing others or ourselves at risk especially in the beginning.” (Staff member at RAD organisation)

“Personally I have been proud of our response to our community need”. (Staff member at community development organisation)

“This was a trying time and many people were anxious and on edge. Where working relationships and friendships have been strained it is important to take this in context of the situation, forgive, and move forward as a team” (Staff member at CJS organisation, responding to a question about further views)

“It has been extremely difficult, traumatic and deeply divisive and has exacerbated existing issues within the organisation.” (Staff member at DASV organisation)

Not only the means but the nature of work changed for some, with new services being needed or a shift to crisis work, and suspension of other activities (see our briefing on Changes to Services), and this had human costs for staff:

“I also feel abandoned by my senior managers, who shifted the focus to crisis work, I have been left hanging with no direction or space to discuss anything.” (Staff member at DASV organisation)

“My role changed from being community based service delivery to solely working from home and online delivery, I found that I was working split shifts, additional hours to fit around family life … This has proved challenging and more difficult as time has progressed.” (Staff member at CJS organisation)

Not all change has been bad (see also our briefing on Positives). Facing a rapid shift to ways and areas of working facilitated more effective approaches and showed the agility of smaller organisations to respond to change. There is a sense of many staff and organisations rising to the challenge and finding in some cases ways of working they will keep post-pandemic:

“many challenges throughout lockdown but have also identified many positive aspects and new ways of supporting women” (Staff member at DASV organisation)

“My experience is that small, grass roots and third sector organisations were able to adapt quickly and effectively to meet the immediate needs of the communities we are embedded in.” (Staff member at RAD organisation)

“Our team have adapted remarkably well to Covid related changes and we feel there have been some positive benefits for example homeworking helping wellbeing.” (Staff member at DASV organisation)

“We have worked well to change our approach and under current crisis the team have responded well to a new way of working.” (Staff member at CJS organisation, responding to a question about further views)

Sometimes people found ways of maintaining face to face contact, though this presented its own challenges:

“We have managed to make socially distanced visits but these have taken place in the back garden or close area. This is not always appropriate particularly if raining or for confidentiality” (Staff member at RAD organisation)

Conclusion

This briefing has addressed different aspects of the impact on staff of working in sensitive areas during a pandemic. Like many sectors, working from home has become the norm. However, the people who need these services may rely on face to face and emergency forms of care with specific implications for the hours worked and for anxiety about unmet needs. There is a strong sense of mission for many, but clear and sometimes quite worrying levels of personal stress and health consequences for most. It is also important to note that work being carried out by services is gendered, and mostly done by women.

These responses mainly came in over the summer of 2020, and it is unclear how these impacts will worsen or wane as we move into winter. There are signs that the coming months carry a degree of foreboding and concern about the level of demand building up for services that have had to be suspended, as well as staff levels of stress over the long haul.

“We anticipate longer-term low-level mental health and wellbeing issues, even after the return to ‘normal’.” (Staff member at CJS organisation)

Sarah Armstrong (@SarahAinGlasgow) is Professor of Criminology at the University of Glasgow and co-lead of the Scotland in Lockdown study.

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.

Can you deliver? Food slots during lockdown

Paul Pearson shares early findings from interviews with participants living with disabilities and long-term health conditions in Scotland, exploring their experiences of accessing food during and after lockdown. Interviews revealed that access to supermarket delivery slots has been particularly challenging.

I have been working as a researcher on the ‘Scotland in Lockdown’ project over the past five months, a study that is aiming to understand and share the experiences of people from four different ‘at-risk’ groups in our society during the pandemic. My own research, as part of a wider team, has focused on the experiences of disabled people and those living with long-term health conditions. The issue of food insecurity has been highlighted consistently throughout the pandemic, not least through the work of Marcus Rashford on free school meals in England. Food insecurity has also emerged as a key issue in our study across all four areas, and this piece is part of a series on food access and security.

This contribution draws on the nineteen interviews I have carried out, and the following quotes are from several of the people who took part in the study. The issue of accessing supermarket delivery slots has proven to be a complex and barrier-filled environment that many of the people I spoke with have struggled to navigate. This issue has affected people of all ages, from all areas of the country, and from all walks of life.

Forgotten shielders: not on the ‘list’ but shielding still

In the early stages of lockdown, the Scottish Government (along with others in the UK) agreed a range of measures designed to support those asked to shield. These measures included access to priority online supermarket delivery slots; however, navigating this system proved very difficult for many of the people I interviewed. This experience was summed up by one participant who lives with MS and faced barriers when accessing a major supermarkets online delivery system:

“[…] the whole… system for the deliveries was just a nightmare.” (Participant living with MS)

This was the case not just for those officially shielding, but also those who themselves took the decision to shield due to being at additional risk because of pre-existing conditions. This was the case for the following participant whose long-term condition has resulted in them being virtually housebound:  

“I think what would have been really useful is some of the support that the shielders got. So, the biggest issue first was we rely on Tesco grocery deliveries, and suddenly that got impossible to get.” (Participant living ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)

As I spoke to more people, a significant category of individuals emerged – those who took the decision to shield but did not receive an official ‘shielding letter’ advising them do to so. This group did not have guaranteed access to the same concessions as shielders, such as priority access to online delivery slots. This frustration was voiced by the same participant, who found their access to food services severely limited:

“[…] we fall between the cracks, really, because we’re housebound but not on the shielding list.” (Participant living with ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)

This participant identifies a key problem that recurred throughout interviews. That is that lockdown for this group meant that some found themselves without the level of access to essentials that they had prior to the pandemic. This had the effect of thrusting people into an often-new system of food access that seemed, at times, to buckle. Furthermore, this system appeared to have little or no consideration built-in for the additional barriers that this group faced. Both, those shielding without a formal letter and those housebound, represent a collective group of what I would term ‘forgotten shielders’- a group whose needs appear to not have been met during lockdown.

Delivery issues don’t stop at the door

Once the supermarket food delivery systems were accessed, participants reported a mixed experience. Some found it worked for them, whilst others encountered a variety of problems. The inability of a major supermarket to provide a specific, and, in the case of the following participant, accessible time slot, was further raised as being a major issue:

“[…] it’ll be like an all day, eight ‘til four, or eight ‘til six slot, and that’s not great for me, because I tend to conk out unconscious, and the thing with these deliveries, they say, […] there has to be an adult to receive it.” (Participant living with MS)

One of the people I spoke to, who lives with a chronic debilitating illness, described a recent food delivery, highlighting how a ‘one size fits all’ delivery scheduling system can be inaccessible, dangerous, and the cause of extreme distress:

“[…] the other week I ordered shopping to be delivered, and obviously because I live up one flight of stairs, but the stairs are internal, so [I?] just like come in the front door and then it’s like a flight of stairs up to the rest of the house, and my health was so bad, like so bad, I could hardly get down the stairs. So, I said to the guy, I was like, could you like carry the stuff up the stairs? I can stand in another room or whatever, like…but like I’m disabled, I really can’t manage to carry the stuff up the stairs… I ended up like crawling up the stairs with the stuff that was supposed to be…that needed to go in the fridge, like the meat and stuff, and then I just sat on the floor in my kitchen and cried for half an hour, before I had the energy to put anything away. And like two days later, there’s still stuff like strewn all up the stairs and a friend came to visit, and he put a load of stuff away for me.” (Participant living with ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)

Hearing from disabled people and those living with long-term health conditions has powerfully detailed how food delivery systems need to consider individual circumstances and needs. Current policies appear to neglect the individual needs of the person and assume that everyone is able to carry their shopping bags up the stairs, regardless of any impairment or health condition they may have. These issues suggest that the shielding provisions need to consider practical elements of people’s living conditions such as their type of housing. This offers an illustration of a form of discrimination called ‘ableism’. Situations such as those described above, illustrate how policies put in place to address food access can themselves create barriers to getting food. It should be noted that such examples are not failings of the individual delivery workers, themselves performing a job that may have placed them at additional risk throughout the pandemic, but of the system as a whole.

Getting food, but not what you need

The issue of having access to food, but not the food that you need, was also raised. For one participant living with Crohn’s disease, whose condition is triggered by eating gluten, a lack of gluten-free products meant they would sometimes go to bed hungry:

“A lot of the gluten free food was understocked, and, you know, that was probably the worst part of it I’d say, that was the most stressful part… the consequences for taking […] gluten far outweighed being a little bit hungry till morning.” (Participant living with Crohn’s Disease)

When delivery systems couldn’t be accessed, some people were forced to rely on support from informal sources. A person who took part in the study, who is registered blind, spoke of the loss of their additional support (home-helps), and described in detail their struggles to secure food. They highlighted a period when they were reliant on the generosity of a local bar and its workers:

“[…] the local bar sent me food, so that tided me over, and then somebody else in the pub took it on herself to a couple of weeks later, and she bought me food out of her own pocket, you know, so if it wasn’t for the support and the generosity, you know, people in the community, I would have been royally fucked, to be honest.” (Participant living with multiple health conditions and registered blind)

Accessing and using online food delivery services both during and post-lockdown has been extremely challenging for many of the official and ‘forgotten’ shielders. The issues and barriers  described by these people can be tackled, and it is encouraging to see the Scottish Government’s updated guidance, which states that the Government is exploring how to expand access to online delivery slots. However, to address the issues discussed in this piece, it would appear that a collaborative approach, which looks specifically at how to meet the needs of individuals, both official and ‘forgotten shielders’ alike, is needed. This should involve all stakeholders, including the major supermarkets, Government and, crucially, the people affected by this issue. This is particularly urgent given the resurgence of COVID-19 and the possibility of Scotland facing further public health restrictions as we approach winter.

Paul Pearson (@paulthepearson) is a Research Associate in the DHC stream on the Scotland in Lockdown Study. He is also a PhD student researching the lived experience of brain injury.

Mental health in Scottish prisons under pressure during lockdown

Marguerite Schinkel shares early findings from a prison survey disseminated across Scotland, exploring the difficulties experienced by prisoners as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. This is a companion piece to an article written for Inside Time which will be published in November.

A recent study on the impact of lockdown conducted by the University of Glasgow included 87 survey responses from prisoners in all Scottish establishments except for HMP Addiewell and HMP Castle Huntly.

Asked ‘how has your life changed over lockdown’, many wrote about increased feelings of depression and anxiety. Respondents said these were caused by uncertain and changed routines, long hours of being locked up, few resources with which to pass the time (with libraries closed), not being able to see family and the sense of not being adequately protected from Covid-19. People complained about only being able to clean cells once a week, having to share with others, staff and prisoners not getting face masks in time or wearing them properly, problems with social distancing and a lack of care from staff. These findings built on concerns raised elsewhere.

Against this backdrop of poor mental health and descriptions of rising tensions, people found it difficult to access support. One person said they had been waiting since the start of lockdown for any kind of one to one contact with mental health services, despite serious issues. Another described how they had been advised to phone the Samaritans instead of looking for support within the prison but couldn’t afford to do so. This chimes with findings provided by Samaritans themselves (see RPsych in Scotland webinars, or download slides of Samaritans July 2020 presentation here). Yet another had turned to the chaplaincy team in the face of unavailable specialised services. Physical health was also an issue, with people not having their medical needs, such as diabetes, taken into account in the food they were given, or failing to get prescribed medication in time. Some explicitly linked the above problems to completed suicides, of which there have been a number during lockdown in Scotland.  The graph below shows that, overall, for most people life in prison is worse (in many cases much worse) during Covid-19, especially in relation to sources of support.

Graph: How are the following under Covid-19 compared to before?

Bar graph showing aspects of life that got better or worse for prisoners

Other respondents mentioned they had benefited from the lockdown in some ways. Some people who found the chaos of normal prison life difficult, especially being in big groups, found the lockdown regime easier, even describing it as a ‘reprieve’. Others had been able to stop taking drugs with fewer drugs entering the prison. Respondents commented positively on the introduction of virtual visits, which allowed some to see people who lived too far away to come visit in person and felt that mobile phones had made staying in touch with people outside easier. This should be read, though, against the total absence of visits at the start of the pandemic. There were also positive comments about the way that some staff had handled the situation and protocols being followed well.

These positive views ought to remind us that people are individuals and respond differently to the same situation, just as has been the case outside. Elsewhere, staff and family members have reported very negative impacts of prison restrictions, some of which might be easier to articulate for others.  Support should be in place for those who struggle and Scotland’s prisons have a duty of care to provide such support immediately to those most in need, lockdown or no lockdown.

Marguerite Schinkel (@margueritesch) is a Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Glasgow and co-lead of the Criminal Justice stream of the Scotland in Lockdown study.

Description of charts on this page

This graph shows responses to the survey question ‘how are the following compared to before?’ Bars indicate the proportion of respondents that responded either ‘Much worse’, ‘A bit worse’, ‘The same’, ‘A bit better’, or ‘Much better’.

It shows that, overall, for most people life in prison is worse (in many cases much worse) during Covid-19, especially in relation to life on the hall, contact with family and friends and access to support services.