'Covid Conversations': experiences of the pandemic in Scotland

This report presents findings from qualitative research carried out between December 2020 and February 2021. These were referred to as ‘Covid Conversations’ as they gave people an opportunity to share their experiences of the pandemic and the public health measures that have been in place.

2. Finances and employment: experiences bills, shopping, work and supporting home schooling


Payments from the council for children's school meals was pointed out as helpful by one participant. They felt cash worked well, as they were able to incorporate lunches into their weekly spend and buy fresh food, rather than being restricted with vouchers. Although others described how they knew other parents who had to walk to school to pick up packed lunches, which they felt defeated the stay at home measures.

"My council put money in the bank every Monday for covering lunches…that has been a god send."

Other forms of support were also mentioned by participants, including support from housing authorities in providing food parcels, hot meals and helping with bills. The Scottish Government's support for taxi drivers was also mentioned specifically.

Heating and bills

Many participants spoke about their struggles paying for energy and electricity. Participants in one group reflected that, in normal times, some people would manage heating bills by spending more time outside of their home. To deal with increases in bills, some described heating only one room, or using duvets to stay warm.

"My benefits changed in November and I suddenly dropped by £130 a week and it was horrendous and I started using foodbanks and stuff. But heating…it has been hard. I only put the heating on when it's got to probably about 12 degrees in the house. Everyone's been going round wrapped in duvets and stuff."

Participants commented that those on Pay As You Go heating would be particularly hit with increases in bills.

"A lot of parents have pre-paid meters and just being able to get out and to top up pre-paid meters and having to put extra into them, that can put a lot of pressure – both financially and physically being able to do it onto parents."

Some participants felt that there was not enough support or understanding from schools or the benefit system for people struggling to pay heating bills. On the other hand, one participant described how school was adapting and consequently helping to keep electricity bills lower.

"Electricity has gone through the roof, not just heating… My electric – I used to manage around £18 a week. I'm now up to nearly £30, which is a huge hit…We have two laptops between four children for school work. I'm really lucky in that schools understand that and this time round have given paper packs."


This experience of single parents being forgotten, or not considered when decisions have been made, came through in discussion around food shopping with the advice to shop alone.

"You get dirty looks for bringing your kids to the supermarket."

"We've had parents that were actually subject to abuse in shops and on one occasion from somebody who worked in the shop."

Even doing things like, when you get vouchers or get payments for free school meals during the breaks, it can be very difficult to get [to the shops]. So I think there's a lot of pressure around the practicalities."

One participant commented that even if people are able to get delivery slots, they may not be able to afford these, as some are used to shopping around for food and supplies to balance budgets. Related to buying things, the cost of face coverings was raised and participants suggested they should be available for free.

"It's an assumption that people can afford to buy masks…surely supermarkets could afford to have masks available. I don't think they should be something you have to pay for."


Participants raised the difficulties that young people face when looking for jobs. This was spoken about in relation to having knock on effects on parents.

"There isn't a Saturday job, so they're much more reliant on the bank of me for absolutely everything."

Difficulties for self-employed people were emphasised too. One participant described their experience of their beauty business taking a hit, while their partner had also been redundant. They felt that there was not enough help for self-employed people, and spoke about friends in who were facing consequences on their mental health.

"I know the government put things in place to give 80% but see because I have just set up my business a couple of years ago, it takes time to get clients and get started…if I hadn't have had my husband to be frank, I think I would have been on the streets."

Job security and funding was another challenge raised. Participants commented that they wanted confirmation that they will be supported, and clarity over how benefits will be delivered. Likewise, some organisations were seeking assurance of support.

"Crucially when we are talking about uncertainty and jobs, the third sector and staff have traditionally always lived with this uncertainty (due to funding). With the increased demands and needs on the sector and their ability to respond quickly and flexibly, it is critical that the Scottish Government offers security to this sector and core provision."

Equipment for home schooling

There was discussion about getting equipment for home schooling, but also the importance of ongoing support once with digital equipment.

"The right device, data, ongoing support, and help with breakages."

One participant described how the organisation they work for had delivered more than 100 laptops to parents in the first lockdown but questioned how ongoing data and other consumables would be paid for.

"We also need to think about other vital devices like printers and ink as schools expect schoolwork to be printed of, completed and scanned back."

A few participants mentioned that schools giving paper copies helped families without computers or internet connection.


Email: covid-19.behaviours@gov.scot

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