The People's Panel - cost of living: research findings

Research findings from the 'People's Panel' on the cost of living from March 2022 to March 2023. This publication also details the background and motivation for developing the People’s Panel, how it was delivered and what impact it has made.

Key findings

The ‘People’s Panel for Wellbeing: 2022 and beyond’ was established with the aim to empower a diverse group of the public to come together and share their views over time. They provided their opinions, experiences, and ideas on the wellbeing of people in Scotland, alongside topics that were pertinent to specific policy areas. This approach to evidence gathering ensures that the in-depth realities of people’s experiences are captured alongside other data sources, such as survey data, to help improve decisions and policies. This provides enhanced understanding of the wellbeing challenges faced by people in Scotland during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Twenty four people, with diverse experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic, with representation across the protected characteristics, took part in the panel. Discussions about the cost of living were conducted across two panel events in June and September 2022. The key findings are:

The day-to-day impact of the cost of living

  • All members recognised the impact that the ‘cost of living crisis’ was having to their lives and that of people around them.
  • Members had made a range of adjustments and sacrifices. They described experiencing a loss of choice and control.
  • Those suffering severe hardship were faced with desperate situations and an overwhelming lack of choice, including relying on foodbanks, limiting food intake to pay their bills, sitting in the dark and not visiting family due to fuel costs.
  • Others were making difficult adjustments that went beyond simple lifestyle changes, for example, making different food choices.
  • A small group of members were able to manage their situation through smaller lifestyle adjustments, and had the ability to make choices for their personal circumstances.
  • Those who were not struggling financially were still keen to speak up for people who may not have their voices heard.
  • Frustration with the situation was evident, heightened by a perceived lack of action to solve the issues.
  • The cost of living was having an impact on longer-term and future prospects, including buying a home and accessing education, and employment opportunities.
  • Cost of living and COVID-19 were perceived as being entwined and exacerbated by each other.

Cost of living impact on health and wellbeing

  • Members associated severe mental health problems with the cost of living crisis.
  • Measures to cope with the crisis, such as using strategies to save money, also affected self-esteem and caused feelings of guilt.
  • Existing physical health conditions (including long-COVID) were perceived to be worsening because of the cost of living crisis. Further physical health problems were anticipated due to inadequate food and warmth.
  • Members spoke about barriers to accessing healthcare. For example, not being able to contact a doctor without phone credit.
  • Members with particular needs or with underlying health conditions expressed concern over needing to heat their homes more often and having the expense of specific diets.
  • Members described the idea that the nation was experiencing ‘collective trauma’ due to the combined effects of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis.
  • Members felt that the worst is yet to come. They were worried about both their immediate circumstances and the impact that the cost of living crisis would have on their future.

People’s Panel support or help ideas

  • Members want the Scottish Government to become more vocal about issues that matter in society, and focus on meeting people’s needs.
  • Members felt this was an emergency situation – they wanted immediate help for people to ensure they were warm and fed, with more and better quality food.
  • Members had ideas for support and help involving more funding for community food and warmth initiatives, which can help bring people together and help communities heal faster.
  • Some favoured targeted help through benefits and grants to help, for example, working parents on lower wage, pensioners, asylum seekers and those living on savings. Others supported indirect help, such as through foodbanks.
  • Panel members also wanted long-term strategic action on the cost of living crisis, whilst recognising that some ideas were not in the Scottish Government’s remit.
  • Members expressed frustration towards governments (across nations) because of their perceived lack of action on the cost of living crisis.


  • The insights gathered over the panel events have been extensive. They are relevant to a range of policy areas and priorities in the Scottish Government. As such, the member’s experiences were included in a published analytical report on the impact of the cost of living crisis in Scotland.[1]
  • The member’s experiences also helped to inform some questions in Scottish opinion polling. Questions were added on mental and physical health impacts, and the extent to which respondents were making major trade-offs or sacrifices. This builds understanding of how these issues were perceived nationally. [2]
  • The panel findings support wider research that has found low income households, with particular characteristics, are facing considerable challenges. This included households in receipt of means-tested benefits (and those narrowly ineligible for means-tested benefits), households who rent their homes, disabled households, households with an unpaid carer, rural and island households, single person households and single parent households.[3]
  • This research has also provided new perspectives on how people have experienced the interconnection between COVID-19 and the cost of living crisis. This “perfect storm” has had significant negative impacts for people, communities, businesses and services. Members also shared novel ideas for support, to help bring people together and help communities heal faster.
  • One of the key strengths of the panel, was in the way it provided a bridge between policymakers and the public. Gathering these diverse perspectives, enabled policymakers to gain valuable insights into the real-world challenges faced by Scottish communities.
  • The principles of trust, respect and inclusivity were weaved throughout the panel setup and delivery (more details in the Method section). These foundational elements have allowed the panel to flourish as a platform for effective policy-making.
  • To replicate the success of the People’s Panel in other policy areas, careful consideration should be given to ensuring there are key decisions and priorities that will be informed by lived experience.



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