Coronavirus (COVID-19): understanding inequalities in wellbeing during the pandemic - report

This report presents findings from qualitative research, carried out in February 2021, that aimed to investigate why the wellbeing of five subgroups in the Scottish population was disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

1. Executive Summary

Purpose of the project

The research was commissioned to investigate why the wellbeing of five subgroups in the Scottish population has been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The five subgroups identified were women, young adults, those living in the lowest quintile SIMD areas (SIMD 1), disabled people, and those whose employment was threatened by the pandemic. From this, recommendations were sought on what can be done to mitigate against further negative impacts on wellbeing across these groups.

The research method

A qualitative methodology was used, comprising eight group discussions and eight one to one in-depth interviews. In total, 47 representatives of the five subgroups participated in the research. All interviews were undertaken online via ZOOM. The fieldwork was completed on 17-18 February 2021.

The main findings

The research revealed that there were five core practical issues which led to six core factors that impacted wellbeing.

Five core practical issues:

1. Home living situations, including enforced confinement

2. The inability to meet up with and connect with friends and family

3. Changes to, and challenges with, work and financial stability

4. Removal of freedoms and closure of the social infrastructure in communities

5. Living in a country which is battling through a pandemic, and with this, the need to learn new ways to be around others in society; and related changes to health service provision

Leading to

Six impacts on wellbeing as a result of the 5 practical issues:

1. A lack of sense of control over our lives as individuals

2. A sense that our national institutions have had no real control over the situation

3. A fear of risk from the virus

4. A fear of risk relating to other health issues as a knock on consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic

5. A general social deconditioning relating to reduced ability to live and interact with others in our homes and communities

6. Positive impacts on wellbeing as a result of the practical issues

The research indicated that there was more crossover than difference between the ways that the five subgroups experienced these impacts on their wellbeing.

To deal with these impacts on wellbeing, the research identified that a range of coping strategies were employed across all the subgroups. These fell into four main categories:

  • Coping strategies that were seen by respondents as having a positive impact. For example, exercising, learning something new, undertaking home improvements, spending time with friends and family, supporting the community and taking support from the community, caring for others and staying mindful.
  • Coping strategies seen as having either a positive and/ora detrimental impact on wellbeing. Specifically, choosing (beyond any need from the virus) to isolate, with this being beneficial as an escape or detrimental if it became a default way of living.
  • Coping strategies that were regarded by respondents as being detrimental to wellbeing. For example, smoking and/or drinking more alcohol, eating more unhealthily, and living sedentary lives.
  • Coping approaches initiated through support given by external bodies such as the government, NHS and schools, and regarded as having positive and/ora detrimental impact. For example, the furlough scheme, other financial aid or support from banks or mortgages, support from the NHS to deal with physical or mental health conditions and support from schools. With support in each of these areas being beneficial when available and relevant, but having a detrimental influence on wellbeing when individuals 'fell between the cracks of eligibility' or when support did not make a meaningful difference to wellbeing or sense of security.

Conclusions and recommendations for future policy development

In order to mitigate against further damage to wellbeing the research indicated that policy development could be considered in three areas:

Actions to support wellbeing in the immediate term, that is, while the COVID-19 pandemic continues:

  • Support to build resilience while the pandemic continues. This includes communications from the government about the plan to get Scotland out of the pandemic, communications to ensure all those in need understand that there is support for wellbeing available, and initiatives to start the process of building confidence in advance of community reintegration.
  • Financial support for those in need while restrictions are still in place.
  • Support from schools for parents to mitigate against the impact of localized cases of the virus.

Actions needed for the medium term, that is, during the immediate recovery from the pandemic:

  • Social reintegration strategies, including allowing the population to see that the pandemic is over, creation and promotion of connection points in communities, and encouragement of volunteering within communities.
  • Provide ongoing support to build resilience particularly amongst those who have faced challenges with their mental health.
  • Provide financial support for those in need through any future recessions.
  • Support for those who are struggling to get back to work.
  • Build on the positive value seen to the climate through the pandemic by encouraging a green recovery.
  • Provide education catch up programmes for all who have missed out during the pandemic.

Actions needed for the long term. That is, looking forward as a society in the light of having lived through a pandemic and building on lessons learned:

  • Strategies and plans to ensure the people of Scotland have ongoing support with building resilience.
  • Strategies and plans that show that the Scottish Government has learned from the COVID-19 pandemic experience and is prepared for any future pandemics; particularly in relation to dealing with the health consequences, protecting the economy, and protecting the education system.



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