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.
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.
Sarah Armstrong shares findings from our survey of organisations. Staff have beenstepping 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
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.
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)
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)
Molly Gilmour shares more early findings from our survey of organisations.
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?
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: Thethird 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.
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.
Edge, C., Hayward, A., Whitfield, A., & Hard, J. (2020). COVID-19: digital equivalence of health care in English prisons. The Lancet Digital Health, 2(9), e450-e452.
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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
digital/technological inclusion for both staff and service users
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.
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.
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:
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.’
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.
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.