Tag Archives: Criminal Justice

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.

Funding lifelines but growing uncertainty: Early analysis of our survey of organisations (Part 3)

Sarah Armstrong shares findings from our survey of organisations. Funding in the third sector, already typified by instability and short lifecycles, has become even more unstable during the pandemic.

Previous blogs have shared early findings from our survey, including some positives of lockdown and some of the changes in service provision. This blog discusses the financial picture for third sector organisations and service providers. Emergency funding has been a lifeline for, and widely accessed by, many. However, this now has been spent, and organisations are facing a deeply uncertain period as we move into winter. Crisis support has offered both large and small lifelines to extremely isolated and vulnerable people but it is unclear how or if such support will be renewed.

This analysis is based on the nearly half of survey respondents (31 responses, representing 30 organisations) who answered at least some finance questions (as of 2 Oct, 63 responses). Abbreviations are used for the four sectors covered in the study: Refugees and asylum-seekers facing destitution (RAD); survivors of domestic abuse or sexual violence (DASV); criminal justice system affected (CJS); and those living with disability or long-term health condition (DHC).

Sources and stability of funding

“Generally speaking our funding is now much less stable than it was before, in common with many other charities.”  (CJS organisation)

“Hard to predict how stable or unstable funding will be in future but it is fair to say we are a very small charity and are always looking for funding.” (RAD organisation)

“We have to scrap around for every piece of funding opportunity.” (RAD organisation)

Three sources of funding were critical to the operation of services: Scottish Government, local authority/health and social care and charitable funding.

  • 68% of organisations receiving local authority funding depended on this source (defined as having 20% or more of all income from this source; average amount of budget covered by local authority funding was 33%)
  • 80% of organisations receiving Scottish Government funding were dependent on this (average amount of funding from this source was 38% of total budget)
  • 70% of organisations receiving charity funding were dependent on this (average amount of charity funding as portion of total budget was 40%)

Scottish Government funding was largely felt to be ‘stable’ (55% of respondents reporting this source of income) over at least the next year. However, the other sources of funding were reported by respondents to be ‘less stable’ or ‘unstable’: 74% of those receiving local authority funding rated this as ‘less stable’ or ‘unstable’ and 67% said this about charity funding.

Concerns about finances before, during and after the pandemic

“Funding an organisation like ours is always a struggle, it has simply become much more of a struggle over the past year or so.” (Community development organisation)

Nearly a quarter of respondents (23%) said that prior to the pandemic they had ‘high’ or ‘very high’ concerns about their funding, underlining the financial precarity of the sector. When asked about the state of their finances during the pandemic, these levels increased, nearly doubling so that 45% said they had ‘high’ or ‘very high’ concerns about funding. This figure rose again when asked to assess concerns about funding over the next year, to 66% of respondents.

Respondents rating funding as a ‘high’ or ‘very high’ concern at different points of the pandemic (n=31)

Chart showing respondents rating funding as high or very high concern

The pandemic seems to have intensified a feeling of funding instability that is part of the normal experience of service organisations. There is a concern not only about the increased costs of adapting to Covid-19 related lockdown (such as transitioning to online services) but wider economic instability and the impact of this on funding availability:

“The economy has taken a battering as well, which in turn may reduce the available income of charitable funders due to a downturn in their investment income. We are keeping a close eye on this.” (CJS organisation)

Emergency funding

Most respondents sought, and also received, emergency grants to support their work: of 28 applying for emergency or crisis funding, 86% were successful (24 organisations; four were unsuccessful). Two of the unsuccessful organisations were in the CJS area; the other two were a DHC organisation and a refugee and asylum seeker’s organisation.

The figure below shows successful emergency grant applications by sector. The number of DASV organisations (11) successfully applying for grants is the same as for all other sectors combined (and the one successful BAME women’s organisation also works to some extent with women in abusive situations). The second largest category receiving emergency funding was the RAD sector. This may not be surprising as many RAD and DASV organisations provide refuge accommodation, and the loss and need for safe housing has been on the Government radar from early in the pandemic.

Emergency funding by sector (n=22)

Chart showing respondents receiving emergency funding

Emergency and crisis funding has supported organisations in several clearly identified areas, underlining the primary areas of need:

  • emergency accommodation costs (including offsetting loss of housing benefit for some)
  • food provision
  • digital/technological inclusion for both staff and service users
  • wellbeing support

Comments from respondents detailing how emergency grants were used convey this:

food preparation, delivery, baby and mum provisions, travel expenses, unconditional cash grants up to £50, phone top ups (RAD organisation)

IT provision for staff working from home (DASV organisation)

buying food and laptops for the families (RAD organisation)

to support service users ensuring they have access to internet through the provision of dongles, tablets etc and provision of supermarket vouchers and tops ups for phones and utilities and wellbeing pack  (DASV organisation)

the costs of moving to home working  and remote delivery of support (DASV organisation)


Some noted that emergency funding was fairly accessible and generous early in the pandemic lockdown buffering the impact on organisations and their services:

“The pandemic has, bizarrely, created a short-term ‘windfall” in terms of availability of funding.” (CJS organisation)

We are now entering the seventh month of Covid-19 restrictions with furlough schemes ending, cases spiking and colder temperatures of the autumn and winter coming. The need for supplemental and more stable sources of income for frontline services will not be decreasing, and crisis funds have now been spent. Uncertainty about the future was a theme raised in comments and it is difficult to imagine maintaining even close to a similar level of services without another round of emergency funding or more stable support.

Some costs have been one-off, such as buying equipment, enabling staff to work from home, or for service users to keep in touch with services that are now online. Other costs have been for basic needs that will be ongoing – food, housing, mobile phone top-ups.

A final note related to emergency funding during the pandemic is the extent to which small amounts have been a lifeline for service users. One month of phone data, £50 in cash, a food delivery, a wellbeing pack – these have been common means of providing crisis support to clients. These direct forms of support often are carried out by the smaller organisations, and those working in domestic abuse or refugee/asylum areas.

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

Description of charts on this page

The first graph on this page shows respondents rating funding as a ‘high’ or ‘very high’ concern at different points of the pandemic

It shows that 66% of respondents have ranked funding as a ‘high’ or ‘very high’ concern over the next 12 months.

The second chart on this page shows emergency funding by sector. It shows that the number of domestic abuse and sexual violence service providers have applied for emergency funding the most, followed by the refugee and asylum service providers.


This week Scotland in Lockdown is proud to support our research partner Poverty Alliance by taking part in Challenge Poverty Week. Every day this week we will be tweeting findings from our research to demonstrate how deeply inequalities shape experiences of lockdown.

Challenge Poverty Week (CPW) is a weeklong campaign, beginning 5th Oct, pushing for communities across Scotland to raise their voice against poverty and unite with others in calling for a more just and equal Scotland.

Each day of CPW will focus on a different theme with accompanying policy asks, these are social security, communities, tax, work & jobs, public services, and care. Scotland in Lockdown are joining the campaign:

  • To raise a unified voice against poverty and show that we all want to live in a more just and equal Scotland.  
  • To build awareness and support for solutions to poverty.  
  • To change the conversation around poverty and help end the stigma of living on a low income.

We live in a society where one in five people live with the constant pressure of living in poverty. COVID-19 and the responses to it, such as the closure of fundamental face to face services, have exacerbated this pressure. The dire consequences of societal responses to COVID-19 continue to be conveyed by those already marginalised or vulnerable in our society throughout this research.

Too many people are struggling to pay bills, put food on the table and take part in society. This is particularly true for women, disabled people and people from black and minority ethnic communities.  

This week is opportunity for us to show our support for the solutions we need to stem the rising tide of poverty. Together we can redesign our economy to solve poverty.

#ChallengePoverty #TogetherWeCan

Less, more, gone and new: Early analysis of our survey of organisations (Part 2)

Ryan Casey shares more early findings from our survey of organisations. Service providers have faced a uniquely challenging time during lockdown, reporting increased demand from client groups for food parcels, equipment for digital inclusion, and social activities.

In a recent blog, Gareth Mulvey analysed what the first respondents to our survey, received between 28 July 2020 and 21 August 2020, had identified as short – and potentially longer – term positive effects of lockdown for service providers in Scotland. The survey captured the experiences of organisations working with people in particular situations: disabled people and people with long-term health conditions; at risk of domestic abuse or sexual violence; under the control of immigration authorities or involved in a refugee/asylum process; and imprisonment or other form of criminal justice control.

Using the first 36 responses (received between 28 July 2020 and 21 August 2020), this analysis will discuss how organisations responded to the following survey question:

What services does your organisation normally provide?

As well as two follow-up questions:

How has capacity to provide this service changed?

How has demand for this service changed?

These questions were designed to get a better sense of how service provision in Scotland has changed as a result of the pandemic. What did work ‘normally’ look like? What does it look like now? What kind of support or services are being asked for? Across those initial 36 responses, there was a total of 266 services to account for, with a response average of 7 services per organisation. Before lockdown, the most common services included:

  • Service referrals
  • Social activities
  • Training/skills
  • Telephone support
  • Advocacy

Unsurprisingly, many of these services were and continue to be significantly impacted by lockdown measures and restrictions.

Less and lost services

Group work had to stop entirely. For instance, we run a personal development programme exploring gender that had to stop as well as a recovery group for addictions, cookery project and more.” (Community development organisation for women)

We have not discontinued any services completely, however, we are offering face to face support only in emergency circumstances.” (Domestic abuse organisation)

When asked about changes in capacity to provide service during lockdown, organisations reported 44% of services were operating at decreased capacity or completely discontinued. The majority of them involved face-to-face work and support as well as community-oriented events such as group work, community meals, social events, and individual face-to-face support. Some organisations have mentioned that they needed to cut some services in order to maintain others, which emphasises the importance of funding and resources, particularly for smaller organisations with less financial stability.

More and new services

Two of our services (training and group work) were suspended temporarily, with group work participants receiving one-to-one online support instead. Both of these services are now back up and running online via webinars and online group support and activities. Both are reaching audiences who struggled to access these services in the past due to their geographical location, so this has been a good piece of learning for us.” (Organisation working with criminal justice affected)

At the same time, organisations are seeing service users looking for different forms of support and needs to be met. While food distribution capacity has not changed much, demand for food parcels has spiked significantly. We are also seeing increased demand for telephone support, social and cultural activities, and training/equipment provision to support digital inclusion (tablets, devices, internet connection, etc.).

Many organisations have found innovative and creative ways to respond to these challenges. Telephone support has become a vital way to stay in touch with service users for welfare checks and befriending. Some organisations are even providing mobile phones, top-ups, and training on how to use these devices so that people who were digitally excluded have a way of staying in touch with support workers. Within the context of the digital divide, it is likely some people will have lost contact, but these new organisational responses show us that efforts are being made to bridge that gap. More generally, it seems that day-today work is moving online if it had not done so already. Videoconferencing, online contact forms, remote appointments, blogging, and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) conversation Zoom groups are just some of the adjustments organisations are making to their daily activities in order to carry on.

Further and fuller analyses of the survey data is underway, but from this glimpse we can see that this has been a uniquely challenging time for organisations and service providers in Scotland. Priorities are shifting, support is taking new forms, and for many, work is becoming more personal than ever before. Within the survey responses there is a sense of exhaustion, but also perhaps a renewed sense of purpose as organisations evolve alongside these unstable circumstances. Yet, it must be asked whether this is sustainable? Can and should people continue to work in this way?

Ryan Casey is a Research Assistant in the Criminal Justice stream of the Scotland in Lockdown study. She is a PhD researcher at the University of Glasgow working on ‘Left to their own devices: A technosocial ethnography of penal electronic monitoring in Scotland.’

Online event | COVID-19: Health, Economy, Society, Politics

The Stevenson Trust for Citizenship presents an online lecture and Q&A featuring our study co-lead, Professor Sarah Armstrong who will share some early findings of the project.


Covid-19 is re-shaping the world in which we live. The situation is continuously evolving and what was once thought of as a short-term crisis is becoming the ‘new normal’. We now realise the implications will be broad and long term. The Stevenson Trust has brought together key experts across disciplines to provide their insights into the ways in which Covid-19 will re-make public health, the economy, society (especially for the marginalised) – and the political landscape.

Date: Monday 28 September 2020
Time: 18:00 – 19:30
Venue: Zoom

Speakers: Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli; Professor Sarah Armstrong; Professor Sir John Curtice; Dr Antonia Ho

How to attend

This will be an online lecture and Q&A held live on the Zoom platform. To attend please register in advance via the Eventbrite link below. We will email everyone who is pre-registered with a Zoom link on the day of the event. Further instructions on the use of Zoom will be available on the Stevenson website. Please note, this lecture will be recorded using Zoom.

Register on Eventbrite

Positives of lockdown: Early analysis of our survey of organisations (Part 1)

In this blog, Gareth Mulvey, a co-Investigator in the Refugee and Asylum stream offers an early analysis of our study’s organisational survey.

Our survey has been completed by organisations and service providers in Scotland that are working with people in particular situations: disabled people and people with long-term health conditions; domestic abuse or sexual violence; control by immigration authorities or involved in a refugee/asylum process; imprisonment or other form of criminal justice control.

This analysis covers responses to the survey received between 28 July 2020 and 21 August 2020. It analyses responses to this question:

Are there any positives you have seen in the context of your work during this pandemic?

It finds a number of ways that organisations and groups identified short- and potentially longer term positive effects of lockdown. Of 36 responses received at this point, only 5 did not respond or responded ‘No, no positive effects of lockdown’. This left 31 respondents or 86% of the sample at this point of the pandemic seeing some positive sides of the response to Covid-19 lockdown.

While quite a number of responses to the question of whether there have been any positives arising from the pandemic unsurprisingly said no, there were also a number of responses that indicate positive changes in working practices as well as a flourishing of community care practices.

Regarding the former, many respondents talked of the crisis making them rethink how they do certain things, e.g. communication, using technology (for visits) etc. In some cases the changes were ones long discussed but never implemented and the pandemic has forced that implementation. For others, changes were more dramatic and immediate, but in both cases they seem to have been at least partly positive, evidenced in the fact many believe post-pandemic these practices will continue.

Some aspects of client engagement have increased: there are often more check-ins with clients (albeit not face to face) and a deeper understanding of their issues, though this must be put in the context of the digital divide, with concerning evidence that some people are falling off the radar of services completely.

Another impact on practice mentioned has been the mobilisation and joint working of the third sector. A number of responses talked in very positive terms about the ways in which the third sector and community groups have stepped into the vacuum created by the pandemic and the required changes in service provision. Very quickly these activities appeared to become coordinated so that organisations were working in complementary ways.

The creativity and drive of staff is also mentioned, though there must be some concern about longer term burn-out issues here. Nevertheless, staff and volunteers have been extremely motivated to help and groups and organisations are very appreciative of that. The fact that more staff are being enabled to work flexibly and that there appears to be a little more independence and autonomy for staff was also mentioned as a positive. Traditional top-down management styles in some cases have had to be loosened.

Less organisationally, there is also a sense that ‘out there’ in communities there have been some positive impacts of the pandemic. Increased neighbourliness is mentioned alongside a sense that new communities are in the process of being built around mutual aid groups and service provision. So community interaction has in some cases increased despite restrictions on movement and community generosity has been made more visible

A final issue worth mentioning is that some funders are seen to have responded well particularly in emergency/crisis support, and also in some cases with support being rolled over, though it is important to note analysed survey responses were those submitted prior to GCC’s announcement of huge third sector cuts.

Gareth Mulvey is co-Lead for the stream on Refugees, Asylum-seekers facing Destitution. He is Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Glasgow, working on issues of migration, migration policy and the impact of policy on diverse migrant communities.

Why research lockdown?

Lucy Pickering, a principal investigator on the project, shares her reflections on why research involving the effects of Covid-19 on marginalised groups is essential, with reference to some emerging findings.

In January 2020 reports began to come out of China of a new respiratory disease, a member of the coronavirus family that includes flu, SARS, MERS and the common cold. As a new disease no-one had immunity and no-one (yet) knew its effects.

It appeared at a particular point – that of Chinese New Year, and the mass movement of people across and in and out of China, as they visited friends and family to celebrate the new year became a key vector for transmission. More recent research suggests that this strange new coronavirus may not have in fact originated in China, and we may indeed never now pinpoint exactly where it came from or how it entered the human population, but what we did see was that close social contact was a key vector for transmission. Suddenly the thing that we as social scientists had spent years, sometimes decades, studying – the thing we believe is central to being human – was a site of danger. Sociality, mixing with others, even hugging became ‘risk factors’.

On 23 March 2020, the UK entered a then-three-week period of ‘lockdown’. We weren’t allowed to touch anyone outside of our household, or to socialise with them at all. New technologies came to the fore as many moved from seeing friends and family to using a range of online platforms to keep in touch. Online quiz nights were set up and so were many mutual aid groups. Neighbours dropped notes through letterboxes, new Facebook groups appeared and new forms of sociality and solidarity emerged. March 2020 was a time of simultaneous unprecedented isolation and unprecedented solidarity.

Yet the roll-out of these forms of connection and disconnection were not even. Those in shared homes could still get a hug from their co-dwellers, those living alone had to go months without physical contact. Those living in houses with gardens were able to enjoy an uncharacteristically hot April and many new Scots took up gardening. Those living in crowded accommodation were suddenly much less able to escape close confines. Some were able to spend time they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to with family, while others suddenly found themselves trapped in an unsafe environment from which there was even more limited respite. Some were able to take advantage of being furloughed to undertake projects such as learning a new language or a new skill, while others were left a radically reduced income, or no  income at all, and many others had to continue working in high risk sectors with often limited PPE and elevated transmission risk.

It can be tempting to think of a disease like Covid-19 as a great leveler, as an opportunity for us to reflect on how we are ‘all in it together’. What the Scotland in Lockdown project is showing is that we are all in it – but we are not all in it in the same ways, and we are not always in it together.

Going into, being in, coming out of lockdown and now, five and a half months later going back into lockdown in some places has affected people in many different ways, often affecting the already at-risk, already marginalised and already vulnerable the most. As organisations had to change their ways of working to keep their staff, volunteers and clients safe, the essential services that support people in all sorts of precarious positions were changed significantly, involving much less contact.

As is now becoming apparent from our research, this is having a profound effect on staff, with a majority reporting increases in stress and anxiety as a result of being worried about clients, who, in many cases are unable to access technology to stay in contact or who have fallen off the radar entirely. Added to this is the increased financial burden that many organisations are experiencing, with smaller groups (perhaps with only one or two paid staff) using their own limited resources to support the increased demand on their services caused by Covid-19.

It is essential, that we understand how Covid-19 has affected different people across Scotland. By focusing on four already marginalised groups who have been affected by lockdown in very different ways, this project is working to better understand this range of experience, but also identify the ways in which Covid responses have exacerbated – rather than levelled – existing inequalities. One finding that emerged as soon as interviews began was the level of shared experience between these groups, with health issues in particular affecting individuals from all the interviewee populations. This in turn has led us to reassess how we understand the effects of the pandemic, requiring us to develop a much more holistic concept of how the imposition of lockdown and other restrictions have most affected those who are already experiencing inequalities.

Through the Scotland in Lockdown project, we are amplifying the voices of marginalised people across Scotland, and celebrating the ways in which they have responded creatively to challenges as well as highlighting the challenges they have faced. By bringing these voices together we are helping to show how this period of lockdown has intensified inequalities and how individuals, families and organisations have responded creatively so that if we need to lockdown again, or again, we can do so better – with more understanding, more kindness, and with a better understanding of how to do it with more equality.

Lucy Pickering is co-principal investigator of the Scotland in Lockdown study.

The meanings and pressures of ‘rapid research’ on Covid-19

In this blog, co-PI Sarah Armstrong talks about the pressure, meanings of and need for ‘rapid’ social research on Covid-19: to respond to emergent funding, to inform the current response to the current pandemic, to study a phenomenon that is itself rapidly changing.

We learned about a call for rapid Covid-19 research in late March, just after the UK officially went into lockdown. In a single week, we pulled together a team of 18 investigators across four distinct research areas. We Zoomed our ideas about topics and methods in light of the new normal and organisations we might partner with, costed the work and distilled all this into a single (!) page application. After a successful result on the application, we moved forward, enlarging our team with a set of 17 partner organisations, and 7 RAs, most conducting their own doctoral research that was now stymied by lockdown.

I have never worked harder in my entire life, and can imagine my colleagues feel the same about this period. Looking back, I think two things provided a sense of motivation to get through it. First, throwing oneself into a major research project about Covid-19 turns out to be a really effective means of not having to think about Covid-19 in personal terms, and the upending of a whole way of life that was just beginning for all of us. Second, I know I speak for my colleagues in saying all of us felt that the encroaching shutdown would be tough enough for us, but would have profound consequences for people who already are positioned at the margin of society’s interest and attention.

  • In prison, lockdown triggered confinement of people in their cells up to 24 hours per day and stopping all visits of loved ones.
  • In homes across Scotland, people were being locked in with abusers, cut off from the normal routines that would provide respite and relief from isolating situations.
  • The limited services supporting those fleeing from unsafe home countries were being forced to close or restrict operations.
  • And, people living with disability or long-term health conditions found themselves at different points categorised as expendable or extremely vulnerable, and subject to greater restrictions and scrutiny of their movement.

At its heart, our project aims to give voice to the experiences of those who face particular hardships and challenges in getting through a global pandemic.

During April and May, we designed research tools that by June needed updating. As the most extreme phase of lockdown gave way gradually to allow access to more spaces and people, it became clear we needed also to include interview and survey questions about coming out of lockdown. We needed to be thinking about the Coronavirus response not as a sprint but a marathon – crisis funding was holding some things together; what will happen when people need help in September, October and onwards? How will people’s ability to weather a storm change when the storm coincides with winter and with the generosity of public spirit fraying?

These questions have stayed with us as we have worked through the nearly overwhelming logistics of carrying out 100+ interviews – thinking about the ethics and technology of using phones, WhatsApp, email, Zoom to talk to people at one of the toughest times of their and our lives.

Logistics have been frustrating and complex, and as with most research, the time taken to set things up is longer than anticipated, or at least hoped for. There has been added pressure given the fact that universities are not just studying, but also experiencing the pandemic. Colleagues without permanent contracts are exposed to even more anxiety and insecurity. University finances are being policed closely, to the extent that there can be challenges purchasing the equipment we need to do our work.

At the same time, delays to the research schedule have meant we are further along in the course of the pandemic, revealing new issues emerging and needing exploration. This has included positive as well as negative developments, and we are adopting an open mind to ways people may, at least in some ways, have flourished or learned adaptations point the way to better ways of doing things after the pandemic. Covid-19 is itself rapidly changing in terms of its distribution and incidence, and the response to it, including even the vocabulary of disease control. We are rapidly learning to adapt to the unstable circumstances we find ourselves in as researchers, and the meaning of ‘rapid research’ is evolving too.

What has become clear along the way is that social research is absolutely essential to understand how to get through a pandemic. The ways societies are organised, how they treat their least well off, how caring works and suffering is experienced, what contributions and needs are valued or invisible will all determine the effectiveness of medical and public health interventions. A sociological lens will help us employ and innovate concepts that allow us to understand the import of what is happening, situating and contextualising issues of power, marginalisation and crisis.

Ultimately, we hope the knowledge we produce with and alongside those at the front line, will make a positive difference in people’s lives.

The views of the author do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the University of Glasgow nor are they intended to represent the views of all working on this study.

Recruiting Now


A close up of a logo

Description automatically generated

Glasgow University Study to explore how lockdown impacts on some of the most vulnerable in Scotland 

Research will focus on groups already experiencing isolation or societal exclusion prior to the pandemic.

The study runs through November 2020 and is now recruiting for participants.

Researchers working with nearly 20 partner organisations serving at risk groups.

A team based at Glasgow University are now recruiting participants for research that explores how lockdown may be differently experienced by those who are already isolated or marginalised. 

It focusses on four groups – those affected by: 

  1. refugee and asylum processes and facing destitution; 
  2. domestic abuse or sexual violence; 
  3. disability or long-term health conditions; and, 
  4. criminal justice control (e.g. in prison or community supervised)

The study aims to help inform Government efforts to prevent further hardship and inequalities. 

The study is funded by the Chief Scientist Office of Scotland and is one of numerous projects supported under its Rapid Research Call for Covid-19 projects. While some research funded under this call focusses on medical and related scientific breakthroughs, this project addresses the social dimensions and impacts of Covid-19.

The study is led by Prof Sarah Armstrong of the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research and Dr Lucy Pickering of the Institute of Health and Wellbeing, both part of Sociology at the University of Glasgow. It involves a large research team of 25 including 18 investigators and 6 PhD and postdoctoral research assistants. 

Prof Armstrong said: “It has now become clear to all that the pandemic does not affect us all equally, we are not all in it together. Just as important, lockdown doesn’t affect us all equally either. For the person isolated with her abuser, or the person who cannot enjoy the gradual easing of lockdown because they are shielding, or the child who has been unable to visit a parent in prison for over three months – lockdown intensifies pre-existing hardships.” 

She continued, “This study seeks to document the voices and experiences of those who may be impacted more significantly than most.”

Dr Pickering noted: “We aim to reveal the ways that the response to a pandemic can interact with pre-existing inequalities.”

“At the same time,” Dr Pickering added, “we hope also to learn of ways that we could address inequalities, or to discover that people who have had to cope longer than many of us with isolation can teach us something about not only surviving but new ways of thriving in these conditions.”

The team is now recruiting participants, aiming for at least 100 interviews. They are also preparing an online survey for organisations to capture the picture of the challenges and adaptations of those providing services to vulnerable groups. Those interested in learning more or participating can check out the project website https://scotlandinlockdown.co.uk, email scotlockdown@glasgow.ac.uk or call 0141 330 7715. 

The research will be conducted between now and the end of November, but the research team will provide regular updates and early findings briefings on the study website. 


Notes to editors 

  1. Scotland in Lockdown: study website: https://scotlandinlockdown.co.uk Twitter:@LockScot
  2. CSO Funded Research under Rapid Covid-19 Call: https://www.cso.scot.nhs.uk/covidcalloutcome/
  3. Overall project queries: scotlockdown@glasgow.ac.uk
  4. Media contacts for specific groups

Press contact: 

Email of press contact for further detail or to set up radio/broadcast interview with named investigator: scotlockdown@glasgow.ac.uk