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.

6. Groups supported by the third sector

More than half of respondents (57%) target their services toward particular sections of society whilst 43% of responding organisations’ services are available to everyone in their catchment area as described below:

‘We support people! To clarify, that is [a] person, irrespective of age, gender, ethnicity etc. Our criteria is if you are concerned about your own or some other person’s wellbeing, call us.’

‘We do not differentiate between a 17 year old afraid to go out for shopping and a 70 year old who needs a prescription or a sample bottle taken to the doctors surgery.’

‘Our usual remit of children, young people and families was broadened and refocused to the needs of the whole of our vulnerable community members’.

SG Targeted Groups

In addition to people advised to shield, SG considered groups at higher risk of harmful impacts during Covid-19 to include: 

  • People who are self-isolating due to Covid-19.
  • People with higher health risks from Covid-19.
  • People unable to access essential supplies due to Covid-19.
  • People who are financially at risk since Covid-19 or whose financial risks prior to Covid may be exacerbated.
  • Marginalised groups such as homeless people, gypsies and travellers, people with problem substance use, and sex workers, where lifestyle or other factors may make them more likely to catch the virus and/or more likely to experience worse outcomes if they do.

Responding organisations have supported all of these at risk groups during the crisis as shown in Figure 1[2].

Figure 1: Groups at risk due to Covid supported by 3 rd sector organisations (n= 489)
Higher risk groups and the percentage of third sector organisations that have supported each group.

The ‘financially at risk’ category is broad and respondents described a number of groups within this including:

  • People experiencing new vulnerabilities, who were also identified in our local authority research – ‘We have found that the group of “middle aged” 40's/50's etc with no labelled mental health issues, including self employed family earner as main income earner have been especially challenged. In our experience this is a group that are usually self reliant and have least need/cost to services, however, the fear and anxiety increase has been significant and they are unaware of the community support, have no experience of how to deal with mental health challenges and do not know how to cope/ask for help etc’;
  • People in food poverty and/or using food banks; 
  • People in or moving into fuel poverty;
  • Musicians and artists who have been financially affected;
  • ‘A small but growing number of migrant workers who are struggling to get back into employment.’ 

SG also targeted support interventions such as the National Assistance Helpline at people with ‘high health risks from Covid’ – defined as people who are aged over 70, disabled, require the support of mental health services, are pregnant or receive a flu jab for medical reasons, and who do not have support to access essential supplies. These categories are intersectional: individuals can be in more than one of the categories. Figure 2 shows that most responding organisations supported people aged over 70, people with disabilities, and/or people requiring the support of mental health services.

Figure 2: Groups at high health risk due to Covid supported (n=369)
Percentage of responding third sector organisations supporting groups with increased health risk.

Other Groups

Responding organisations have been supporting a wide range of other groups in need. These are set out below starting with the most frequently reported groups:

Children and young people including: those with disabilities; those who are in ‘families with vulnerabilities’; isolated and/or anxious young people; digitally excluded young people; and children and young people who have experienced the sudden death of family members.

Parents and families – especially: families struggling with increased costs due to children being at home during the school day; single parents; young families – ‘Families who are vulnerable because of their age’; ‘Families with 'troubled' or 'challenging' relationships’; and survivors of domestic abuse.

Carers and the families of people with disabilities, mental health issues, or problem substance use – ‘Nearly all are isolated and don't know what to do to help their son/daughter as they require specialist psychological support. None is available so most stay at home and become more isolated and vulnerable.’

Other third sector organisations and volunteers – ‘volunteers of all ages struggling in the same way as our clients’.

Businesses and other organisations, such as rural businesses, local artisans, small arts organisations, freelance artists and cultural professionals.

Community resilience partners and other statutory organisations, e.g. taking referrals from local authority social workers, health workers and schools.

Socially or physically isolated people, including ‘those anxious about going out and perhaps more nervous to approach more official organisations but preferring a local neighbourhood approach.’

People affected by multi-faceted issues – 

‘Loss, including bereavement and loss of function’

‘During lockdown the people we support have experienced physical and mental health issues related and unrelated to their condition, work-related issues, financial issues, domestic abuse, housing issues including overcrowding and inappropriate accommodation, problems with neighbours, problems accessing the formal and informal care on which they usually rely, bereavement, cyber-bullying.’

‘Parents and carers often also have learning difficulties and there is a high incidence of mental health issues both for carers and for children and young people themselves. These issues have intensified during lockdown and closure of schools/ withdrawal of statutory services.’

Some other groups were mentioned by a few respondents: key workers, people in hospitals and care homes, people who are digitally excluded, abuse victims or people at risk of abuse, people who have been in care, and people in specific geographic communities such as areas with high deprivation.

The wide variety of groups supported during the pandemic is likely to reflect the diversity of third sector organisations supporting communities locally.



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