Coronavirus (COVID-19): supporting people at higher risk - survey of third sector organisations

This report examines findings from a survey of 530 third sector organisations in Scotland who supported people through the COVID-19 pandemic over March to August 2020.

14. Concerns about supporting those in need as the pandemic develops

When asked whether organisations have any concerns about supporting those in need in the future, responses were quite divergent, with some organisations providing specific and detailed concerns and others indicating that they did not have any concerns to mention at the time of the survey.  Others did not note any specific concerns, but provided a sense of struggle nevertheless, with responses saying they would continue as long as they could, while others said they could cope in the immediate future, but did not have a sense of definite sustainability.

Concerns raised about supporting those in need going forward are described below.

Funding was the most commonly mentioned need.  Organisations are concerned about lack of funds going forward, funds running out in the short-term future, how to use funds they have to meet demand or provide alternative services while social distancing is in place, and about the funding landscape and increased competitiveness from more organisations needing more funding and competing for the same pots.  

Though many spoke of benefitting from SG, local authority, and other funds – and of it being helpful that these funding streams were highly flexible – there were sustainability concerns as these funds will run out and may not be renewed.  The third sector respondents here were looking for clarity on whether further funds would be available and for whom.  Smaller organisations were keen to stress that they felt funding was funnelled towards larger organisations:

‘Yes, as a small charity our trading and fundraising income has been devastated this year. We took the decision not to furlough any staff, as it was clear our clients were going to need our support during lockdown. This means we will require additional grant funding to stay afloat next year. The concern is that many charities will be in the same boat, with more people chasing less money.’

‘Funding is never easy. Our funding has always been insufficient for the level of need in the city, compared to our sister organisations in more rural and less deprived areas.’

Volunteer numbers and training – which were also linked to funding – were also of key concern.  Volunteers are starting to return to work themselves or may be in an at risk group and less able to provide support.  Volunteers are also described as needing training to manage future needs, but there is very little time or capacity to provide this:

‘All our volunteers and staff are done in and need a break. We need to redo what we offer plus add new fresh volunteers, the cost will be key as we need more part time staff to manage the number of volunteers needed to keep things going.’

‘As volunteers return to work support is going to be harder. For the team's core operation the additional PPE needs and demands require huge additional risk assessments to be carried out. The whole model needs to be reassessed’.

‘My ability to train new volunteers is limited at present. If lockdown continues and we cannot meet inside as groups then we will not have enough volunteers to continue giving support to mothers.’

Connected to both the above issues is that of burnout.  Staff and volunteers were considered to be at real risk of burnout and their ability to provide for others was seen as low.  People were keen to take rest and encourage their staff to rest, but were aware of the impact of that on those they support:

‘My concern is for our delivery partners and their ability to maintain this level of intense and unrelenting service delivery. Staff are exhausted and are driving themselves hard.  We are about to launch a series of "how to look after yourself" training and seminar sessions for staff teams.’

‘As a team we are also exhausted. We have worked ourselves into the ground but feel that we have made a difference but staff also need their breaks and their respite now. I am worried about funding, we don't have formal decisions yet on procurement... I know they are coming but it is a very stressful situation to be in. Everything is on hold.’

‘We are all volunteers. This work is important, our energy is depleted.’

‘I am very tired. I can do no more and I need a break.’

The third sector organisations that responded were also in a process of trying to adapt their services to meet new needs and to respond to physical distancing and safety guidance.  Some were finding this difficult and that it provided a less useful means of connecting with clients and members. Some even note that clients are disengaging from them: 

‘…we work with adults with additional support needs and online support just is not a substitute or even viable.’

‘Capacity to carry out all the additional support tasks , new platforms,  evaluation, fundraising, questionnaires etc that the pandemic has necessitated with no increase in staff for a small charity is our main concern.’

‘It is becoming harder and harder to engage with people without being able to have face to face contact with them and relationships that have been built up over time prior to lockdown are at risk of breaking down.’

More generally, future planning is a strain for these organisations as they try to come to terms with the new context.  They were looking for guidance and information on how to best look after staff, clients, and members, and were often searching for new premises (some organisations could no longer afford their old premises, while others had outgrown theirs).  They were trying to plan for new and possibly greater needs in an uncertain future.  Some were finding themselves thrust into new areas that they were not prepared for, such as mental health support, and struggling to catch up and provide for these clients. 

There were calls for greater support from government and local authorities to support all of this work and change, as well as providing information.  For those looking for accessible information, this was of particular importance going forward.  Some organisations were finding that the new restrictions mean they cannot provide the service they would have pre-pandemic:

‘We are concerned about a lack of guidance on the probability of a 2nd wave, we are [planning] as an organisation that there will be a 2nd wave and are ensuring that we have learnt from the 1st wave. A massive support to us in terms of bringing groups of carers together would be if we had access to testing for carers who wanted to take part in residential breaks.’

‘I also have concerns that the demand for our service increases greatly going into Autumn and Winter.’

‘We are not a service dedicated to supporting people's mental health except in an indirect way through befriending. However, we are being called on more and more to support people with particular mental health needs, for which we are not qualified, funded or experienced.’

‘No concerns about sustaining our group in terms of essential services, but I do have concerns about the lack of a venue. Local authorities should make empty buildings / schools / halls available free of charge to the covid response groups.’

‘As we risk assess and plan for all eventualities we recognise that our service will not be able to carry out the same number of appointments, calls, online sessions and drop ins if we see the predicted rise in referrals alongside maintaining social distancing, premises restrictions and cleaning regimes. We also have a responsibility to support staff, maintain their expertise and allow for holidays and development within their staff time.’

As with the previous section, the issue of technology was raised here as organisations called for more attention to be paid to digital inclusion across a range of sectors:

‘Witnesses giving video evidence from remote locations may be a concern as not all areas in Scotland have fast internet or strong signals for modern technology to achieve this.’

‘Our only concern is the Scotland Govt digital 2020 rollout as we recognise the need for this and can't afford to have more delays.’

Finally, relationships between the third sector, local authorities and the NHS were also raised.  There was calls for closer working and some negative reflections on current working.  These respondents felt change was required.  However, there were also positive reflections on relationships, showing that, in areas where this is working well, this close working has been a real support (with some comments feeling this approach should be taken into other issues, beyond the pandemic itself):

‘…my normal job is to help our community to develop community based initiatives related to funding applications. My work since 2nd March has moved into more of a social worker type role.  Within our 6 villages at the bottom of [LA], we have no regular support from any agencies. We don't have a central community centre and have always had to be creative to look after ourselves. I am working alone to try to support everyone in the villages through this crisis.’

‘…it would be easier if the NHS worked closer with us to provide the clinical support required by some individuals.’

‘We feel confident in continuing to provide our service.  With the continued support from the local authority and local community, we feel confident in being able to meet any further rise in demand.’

‘Developing a coordinated approach to harness the amazing community resilience so Scotland can continue to develop a national movement for change to build a resilient society that faces the climate challenge.’

The authors of this report are grateful to all who participated in the survey. 



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