Tag Archives: Disability & Health Conditions

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.

Living through Covid-19 with type 1 diabetes: Emerging findings

Chris Bunn, an Investigator in the Disability and Health Conditions stream, shares emerging findings from interviews with people living with type 1 diabetes during the pandemic.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been testing for most people in one way or another. Those living with long term health conditions have had to confront the additional challenges of judging how to protect themselves from Covid-19 while still being able to feed themselves, adapt to new routines, access medical care and remain connected to their family and friends.

Early on in the pandemic, people living with diabetes were told that they face greater danger from Covid-19 than others. Small-scale studies, such as this one in China, emerged rapidly and suggested that diabetes increases the risk of death from Covid-19. Since then, researchers have conducted larger assessments of the connection between diabetes and Covid-19 outcomes, and have confirmed that there is a strong link. Responding to these developments, diabetes groups have played an important role in reassuring their members that they are not at greater risk of catching Covid-19, reminding them that for most the virus produces mild symptoms.

While such reassurances have been welcomed by many in the diabetes community, it is clear many of its members remain concerned about Covid-19. This became apparent to us when we launched our study and appealed for people to participate in interviews. We received a large number of replies in a short space of time from people living with type 1 diabetes who wanted to share their experiences. While we have also interviewed people with type 2 diabetes, we decided to respond to the groundswell of volunteers from the type 1 community and to explore with them what their lives have been like during this period.

The disappearance of specialist care

So far, we have interviewed about half of our intended target of 25-30 people. Most of the people we have spoken to have told us that their appointments with diabetes specialists have been cancelled and no new appointment date has been provided. While our interviewees have been understanding of the pressures the health service is under, many also expressed concerns about this loss of care. One described how eye and nerve-related complications from their diabetes are no longer being monitored, telling me that they feared this leading to preventable damage being missed. Several others have echoed this concern, describing how the cessation of regular screening for complications worried them. This is not surprising, given so much diabetes care emphasises the importance of monitoring the complications that can build up over time.

Others we have spoken with have given us accounts of how lockdown measures prevented them from starting new treatments. Two of our participants were due to begin using an insulin pump – a device which releases insulin into the body throughout the day, allowing patients freedom from having to inject themselves regularly. Insulin pumps are often recommended for people who are finding it difficult to meet the blood glucose targets that their doctors are pursuing with them, suggesting that Covid-19 related delays may be keeping these patients from accessing the treatment they need to attain better blood glucose regulation.

Common to all of the accounts we have collected so far is a sense that communication between diabetes services and their patients could improve. With the exception of one interviewee, remote consultation via telephone or video has not been offered and no information provided on how to access care if needed. In one interview this was a complaint that was emphasised, with the participant telling me that it would have been of great comfort to have had a list of services to contact in the event that different needs arose relating to diabetes.

Negotiating new routines

For people living with type 1 diabetes, routines can be important for managing their condition. The timing, amount and type of food that they eat and physical activity they do can make a big difference to their blood glucose levels. Unsurprisingly, for many of our interviewees the restrictions of lockdown led to changes to their usual activities and foods. Some of those we spoke to described how this led to fluctuations in their blood glucose levels which they struggled to contain. Some increased their insulin consumption, but others accepted higher levels, preferring not to risk hypoglycaemia at a time when they feared the potential consequences of hospitalisation.

The impact of disruption to routines was not just described as a challenge to physical health. Our interviewees spoke of how they have struggled with the loss of social contact that their routines provided them with. Whether through work, socialising or even visiting favourite shop keepers, some of those we spoke to found the absence of in-person contact made them feel down and question their mental health.

Some silver linings

While the challenges of living with type 1 diabetes during the Covid-19 crisis have dominated our interviews so far, some have described some positive developments in their lives. One interviewee told us of how the furlough scheme had enabled them to take a break from working which they had not had since they entered full time employment at the age of 16. This break gave them the opportunity to reflect on the direction their life was taking and decide to enrol in and start an access to university course, with the aim of improving their future.

Another of our interviewees spoke about how lockdown has allowed them to witness the growth and development of their newborn baby in a way that would not have been possible without lockdown and furlough. This person emphasised that this was an experience that could never be taken away from them and was a source of emotional strength during an otherwise difficult period of life.

Looking ahead

From the interviews we have conducted to date, it is clear that people living with type 1 diabetes in Scotland have faced significant challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic. While this blog post has shared just a snapshot of what we are learning, it underscores the most important message we have been given from the community: diabetes care has faced massive disruptions and many patients are not being communicated with.

While it is too early to know the full extent of the consequences this disruption will have for the health of those living with diabetes in Scotland, early warning sirens are starting to sound. A study in Naples, Italy has reported that foot amputations among diabetes patients with foot ulcers have increased three-fold in 2020 when compared to 2019. As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, diabetes care in Scotland and beyond needs to adapt rapidly to limit the damage that avoidable complications can do to the lives of people living with diabetes.

If you or someone you know is looking for guidance on managing diabetes and accessing care at this time, Diabetes Scotland has some useful information. They also offer a helpline, which you can reach on 0141 212 8710, Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm, or by email – helpline.scotland@diabetes.org.uk

Chris Bunn is a Lecturer in Sociology at University of Glasgow. His research is focused on living with, managing and preventing long term health conditions.

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


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