Coronavirus (COVID-19) and society: what matters to people in Scotland?

Findings from an open free text survey taken to understand in greater detail how the pandemic has changed Scotland.


Understanding people’s experience of the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted day to day life in Scotland in the direct threat to our health from the virus, and through the effects of the public health measures that were designed to reduce its transmission. For extended periods of time there was limited access to public services, businesses, workplaces, travel and community settings.

Research has highlighted the negative impact the pandemic has had on people’s mental health, finances, health, social connections, access to food, and living arrangements.[1] These effects were visible even when the direct threat from the virus was temporarily reduced. Much of this evidence is from numerical survey evidence, and there is less information on people’s direct experiences.

To understand in greater detail how the pandemic has changed Scotland in the short and longer term, we ran an open, ‘free text’ survey. This offered members of the public the chance to share their concerns, emotions and thoughts about the future in their own words. This report presents the findings from the survey.

Data collection

An online free-text survey was launched on 24 January, for three weeks and it closed on 13 February 2022.[2] Questions included, ‘how do you currently feel at this point in the pandemic?’, ‘what measures have you found easier or harder to follow? (and why)’, and ‘what kind of help would enable you to feel safer and more supported?’ (see Annex A for the full list of questions and Annex B for method).

The survey was publicly available on the Scottish Government website and it was promoted through the Scottish Government Facebook page. A link to the survey was also shared via a range of over 30 organisations in the third and public sector.

The main limitation to this type of research is that the sample is self-selecting and therefore not representative of the wider Scottish population. It was opt-in and so it is likely that there was greater representation from people who had a higher level of interest and concern in the questions.

Who took part in the survey [3]


  • 70% female
  • 24% male
  • 0.7% non-binary

Age (years)

  • 29% 45-54
  • 25% 55-64
  • 22% 35-44
  • 8% 25-34
  • 8% 65-69
  • 5% 70 plus
  • 2% under 24

Ethnic group

  • 93% white
  • 2% other ethnic group

Long-standing physical or mental impairments, illness or disability

  • 67% no
  • 26% yes

Unpaid carer

  • 71% no
  • 22% yes

Employment status

  • 46% employed full-time
  • 14% employed part-time
  • 15% retired
  • 8.5% self-employed
  • 3% not working due to illness
  • 2% studying
  • 1% unemployed

Financial status

  • 40% managing very/quite well
  • 36% managing alright
  • 14% not managing very well/some financial difficulties
  • 2% deep financial trouble

A note on the analysis

This report presents information from qualitative analysis of the survey responses. The survey was intended to consider the range of impacts of the pandemic and this report does not attempt to quantify the relative weight of any of the issues that were raised.

However, it is noted where impacts were particularly prominent and were shared across a large section of the sample. For example, in relation to the general disruption and practical and emotional costs of social distancing policies. Some issues were more specific to a smaller sub-section of survey respondents but these are no less important just because fewer people experienced them.

Structure of the Report

This report is structured into three sections which are: personal impact, staying safe and support needs, in order to answer the following 3 questions:

1. How do the public feel two years into the pandemic and what are their concerns and hopes about the year ahead?

2. What has made it easier or more challenging for people to stay safe during the pandemic?

3. What kind of help would people like in the future to feel safer and more supported?



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