Publication - Research and analysis

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.

69 page PDF

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69 page PDF

639.0 kB

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

69 page PDF

639.0 kB

2. Introduction

2.1 Background

In January 2021 The JRS Research Consortium was commissioned, by the Scottish Government, to undertake research into how the wellbeing of key subgroups within the Scottish population has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Scottish Government commissioned the research to focus on five key population subgroups. These were:

  • Women
  • Young adults
  • Disabled people
  • Those whose job security had been threatened by COVID-19
  • People living in Scotland's most deprived communities (defined as those living in the lowest quintile SIMD communities (Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation - SIMD 1) [1]

These subgroups were identified by the Scottish Government team, through a series of quantitative research projects, as being those who had faced the greatest challenges to their wellbeing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. [2]

JRS was commissioned to explore how the wellbeing, that is levels of relative comfort and contentment with life, of these subgroups had been affected by any contributory factors during the COVID-19 pandemic including attitudes to or reactions to:

  • Actual or potential impact on physical health due directly to the COVID-19 virus
  • The knock on effect on physical health as a result of actual or perceived inability to access health services due to COVID-19
  • The impact of financial or economic changes, and
  • The impact of isolation as a direct result of the restrictions imposed around the COVID-19 pandemic

Within this context, the research was commissioned to learn about the experiences of those in the five most affected population subgroups so that, ultimately, supportive policies can be developed that might mitigate the social harms of the virus now and moving forward.

2.2 Specific Research Objectives

The following list of key areas of investigation was agreed by JRS and the Scottish Government client team as the required focus for the project:

The research should determine, for all relevant subgroups and in terms of differences between subgroups:

  • In relation to historic experiences of COVID-19:
    • What life was like for our key subgroups.
    • What the impact of COVID-19 was during restrictions in relation to wellbeing.
      • What the positive experiences were.
      • What the challenging experiences were.
    • What coping strategies were employed to help deal with the challenges that were faced over the COVID-19 era, identifying both:
      • Coping strategies which influenced wellbeing that were regarded, by respondents, as being beneficial overall.
      • Coping strategies that were regarded as being detrimental to wellbeing.
    • What level of engagement there was with Scottish Government measures to help mitigate the challenges of COVID-19.
    • What level of engagement there was with measures provided by other organisations (public, private sector or third sector) to help mitigate the challenges of COVID-19.
      • Which measures were appreciated.
      • Which were not appreciated.
    • What measures our key segments would ideally like to have had offered to them to help reduce the impact of COVID-19 on their wellbeing.
  • In relation to current experiences of COVID-19, during the Christmas 2020 and the early 2021 lockdown:
    • How the key subgroups are coping now.
    • What they are doing differently at this time.
    • What measures the key segments would like to have offered to them now, to help them cope with COVID-19.
      • How they would like these measures to be implemented and by whom.
  • In relation to the future - both as COVID-19 continues and in the post COVID-19 recovery era:
    • What the main fears of our key subgroups are.
    • What lessons they would like the Scottish Government and our society in general to take from the COVID-19 era.
    • What support they anticipate would help them recover from the COVID-19 era at a personal level and from the societal perspective.

Based on these areas of investigation the project was required to generate recommendations for where potential problems or further inequalities could be prevented

2.3 Method

The research employed a qualitative design involving a mix of eight group discussions and eight in-depth interviews with representatives of the key subgroups. The group discussions allowed respondents to discuss and compare their experiences throughout COVID-19 while the one-to-one interviews provided a platform to explore issues relating to wellbeing in a more sensitive way. All interviews were undertaken on either the 17 or 18 February 2021. Each of the interviews lasted approximately 60 minutes and the groups lasted 90 minutes. All interview sessions were undertaken online through the ZOOM platform and were moderated by one of the core team of senior JRS executives.

Respondents were invited to participate in the research through a mix of different techniques, including: use of the recruiters' databases of individuals who had participated in historic research projects, rollout techniques (where individuals known to the recruiters are asked to give contact details of individuals they know), and some respondents were recruited face to face within community shopping areas (albeit the ability to find and engage with respondents in this way who were not previously known to the recruiters was limited due to COVID-19 restrictions). Potential respondents were asked to confirm relevant personal details in relation to the recruitment criteria of the project in advance of being invited to attend the research sessions through use of a structured profiling questionnaire (see Appendix 4.1).

The sample plan for the interviews and focus groups was based around three key criteria:

  • The research focused on people with certain experiences and attitudes that suggested they had faced challenges with their wellbeing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. An understanding of whether potential respondents had faced 'challenges with their wellbeing' was achieved through the recruiters asking questions on perceived happiness, personal levels of anxiety and/or employment of coping techniques.
  • The research and analysis focused on the five key subgroups - women, young adults, disabled people, those whose job security had been threatened by COVID-19, people living in Scotland's most deprived communities (that is the lowest quintile SIMD communities). Disabled respondents were recruited within each of the other four subgroups as opposed to in isolation. This approach was undertaken on the basis that the other four subgroups, collectively, represented the majority of the Scottish population.
  • Within each subgroup respondents were recruited to ensure that other demographic characteristics of importance such as age, gender, socio economic group (SEG[3]), location, ethnicity and life stage (family including under 12 year old children, family with older children, empty nesters (i.e. a parent whose children have grown up and left home) were accounted for. This assured that the sample included a wide range of respondents in terms of demographic profiles. This approach also allowed the group discussions to be undertaken within relatively homogenous gatherings.

All interviews were moderated with use of a topic guide of questions (see Appendix 4.2). This guide was written to reflect the core project objectives, as outlined above.

Interviews were recorded, with the respondents' permission, and then transcribed to aid analysis. Thematic analysis was undertaken whereby the data was interrogated to identify common themes of relevance to the project objectives. Quotes are presented throughout this paper alongside respondents' profile information.[4]

2.3.1 The Sample Plan

A total of 47 respondents participated in the research in total. 39 respondents took part in one of 8 online group discussions that included either 4 or 5 respondents per group. A further 8 respondents participated in individual interviews.

Group Key Subgroup Additional Recruitment Criteria
Group 1 Women 20-50 years, BC1C2D
Group 2 Women 50-75 years, BC1C2D
Group 3 Young people- 18-34 years BC1, Male and Female
Group 4 Young people- 18-34 years C2D, Male and Female
Group 5 Individuals who stated that their employment has been at risk as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic 20-50 years, BC1, Male and Female
Group 6 Individuals who stated that their employment has been at risk as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic C2D, Male and Female
Group 7 Lived in communities defined as SIMD lowest quintile (SIMD 1) 20-50 years, C2DE, Male and Female
Group 8 Lived in communities defined as SIMD lowest quintile (SIMD 1) 50-70 years, C2DE, Male and Female

10 respondents across the groups were disabled: 2 with sensory disabilities (deafness), 3 with long term illnesses, 3 with mental health conditions and 2 with physical disabilities that affected mobility.

Respondents for the one-to-one interviews were recruited to represent those who spanned more than one of the five key project subgroups.

Depth Key Subgroup Criteria
Depth 1 A 20-50 year old woman who lived in a SIMD lowest quintile community (SIMD 1)
Depth 2 A disabled woman (50-70 years)
Depth 3 A disabled young (18-30 years) woman, whose employment was at risk as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic
Depth 4 A disabled young (18-30 years) male, who lived in a SIMD lowest quintile community (SIMD 1), whose employment was at risk
Depth 5 A young (18-30 years) male in the BC1 SEG, whose employment was at risk
Depth 6 A 20-50 year old male who lived in a SIMD lowest quintile community (SIMD 1), who was disabled
Depth 7 A 20-50 year old male who lived in a SIMD lowest quintile community (SIMD 1), whose employment was at risk
Depth 8 A 50-70 year old woman who lived in a SIMD lowest quintile (SIMD 1) community and was disabled

Beyond these criteria, across the whole sample, there were 6 respondents who represented the minority ethnic population of Scotland. With regards to location, respondents were recruited from urban and rural communities in Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Edinburgh, East Dunbartonshire, Falkirk, Fife, Glasgow, Midlothian, Renfrewshire and South Lanarkshire. A full breakdown of the sample plan is provided in Appendix 4.3.

2.3.2 Limitations of the Project

First, the research utilised online interviewing techniques only. While the JRS team employed a range of systems to ensure that people with low digital confidence were included in this project (e.g. through promotion of the JRS ZOOM helpdesk service), it is possible that some potential respondents with low digital literacy or limited access to the internet were excluded from the research.

Second, the research fieldwork was exclusively undertaken over a two day period in mid-February 2021. This meant that fieldwork was undertaken while the COVID-19 pandemic was still live and during a period of Scotland wide Level 4 restrictions. As such, it must be acknowledged that wellbeing issues may change for our key segments beyond the conclusion of the project.