Coronavirus (COVID-19) impact on wellbeing: wave 3 - survey summary

Findings from the final wave of a telephone survey we commissioned to better understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people in Scotland.

Main findings

COVID-19 has impacted on many areas of people's lives. To understand this impact a research survey was conducted with the Scottish general public in March 2021. It captures wellbeing over time during the COVID-19 pandemic and builds on findings from two previous surveys that took place in May 2020[1] and December 2020.[2]

The main findings are:

  • The second national lockdown in 2021 was harder for some people in terms of their wellbeing, sense of purpose, financial pressures and missed social connections. The duration of lockdown and the associated aggravating impact should be factored into support, planning and recovery.
  • There are higher levels of loneliness and anxiety in society compared with before the pandemic. However, there are signs of improvement, with anxiety and worry about others becoming ill with COVID-19 decreasing.
  • People were finding the restrictions on socialising with others harder to deal with in March 2021 than the previous survey waves in May and December 2020. People were also less likely in March 2021 to report that others were checking in to see if they were ok, than in May 2020.
  • However, technology has facilitated contact, with reported increases in the use of phone/video calls to connect with friends and family. There has also been a consistently high proportion of respondents, across the survey waves, who said they are able to find ways of connecting with nature.
  • Yet, this is not the same picture for everyone. Different groups experience higher levels of hardship. The experiences of women, disabled people, those on lower incomes, younger people and those living alone have been more negative revealing multiple inequalities.
  • These groups were more likely to report challenges such as losing their job, lower confidence accessing online services, lacking a sense of purpose and feeling cut off from others.
  • This research has highlighted a critical need to continue monitoring and understanding subgroup inequalities through a variety of means to further explore how and why experiences vary, to determine the longer term impacts of COVID-19 and to better support the diverse needs of individuals.


COVID-19 and the consequent restrictions has caused harm to health, society and the economy.[3] Furthermore, as the pandemic moves into a second year, people's understanding of the situation and their experiences are likely to change, in line with the tightening and easing of restrictions and the roll-out of initiatives such as the vaccination programme.

Personal and community connections are crucial for health and wellbeing. For that reason, the Scottish Government commissioned a telephone survey to better understand the experiences of anxiety and worry, financial hardship, and help and support within communities across Scotland. This report supplements previous work published in September 2020 and March 2021 by documenting change and stability across people's experiences from May 2020 to March 2021.

As with previous reports, there is a focus on how different groups have experienced greater levels of hardship.[4] While some behaviours and attitudes may change over time, it is apparent, that that for some, there are consistent pressures and challenges that make living through a pandemic particularly difficult. That is why it is essential that work continues to understand both the positive and adverse impacts of the pandemic on behaviours, community connections and wellbeing.

Data collection

The latest and final wave of fieldwork was conducted between 5 and 12 March 2021. During this time the vaccination programme (which started in Scotland on 8 December 2020) was underway. Over a third of the population had received their first dose of the vaccine.[5] Most of Scotland, with exceptions of the Islands, faced lockdown restrictions (Level 4).[6] Younger pupils had returned to school (22 February), and a 'cautious' easing out of lockdown had recently been announced (23 February). See Annex A for further details on the method and Annex B for a copy of the questionnaire.

Figure 1: Data collection timeline
Timeline showing the dates of fieldwork and other key events about Coronavirus taking place in Scotland in 2020/21.


The report is structured into three sections which are: Wellbeing; Support and Income and Behaviours and Coping in order to answer the following questions:

  • What has the impact of COVID-19 and related response measures been on wellbeing in Scotland?
  • What are people's experiences of COVID-19 and related response measures?
  • What personal strategies are being developed to cope with COVID-19 and the restrictions in place?
  • How do these experiences and strategies differ by groups, especially for those who typically had lower levels of wellbeing and by measures of income and deprivation? [7]
  • Are people getting the support they need and where from?


This study used a randomised telephone survey sample. The benefit of this mode is that a potentially larger pool of participants can take part, as opposed to an online interview, which relies on the respondent having internet access. In this survey both mobile and landline phone numbers were used for a more inclusive sample (see Annex A for further details on the method and Annex B for the full questionnaire).

A limitation is that telephone surveys can under-estimate certain groups. To overcome this, this survey used quota sampling to achieve a representative sample of the population. Quotas were set for age, sex, working status and Scottish Parliament region, and post-survey weighting applied.

Since representativeness was achieved through quota sampling, strictly speaking, statistical significance should not be applied. However it has been used in the analysis of this survey data as an indication of differences that are likely to be of importance. The unweighted sample sizes for each sub-group can be found in Annex A. The data tables which report the sub-group differences are contained as a supporting file.



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