1. Introduction
  2. Health
  3. Economy, Fair Work and Business, Culture
  4. Communities, Poverty, Human Rights
  5. Children, Education
  6. Environment, International
  7. Unequal impacts across the National Outcomes


What COVID-19 may mean for Scotland’s Wellbeing in the Future


Communities, Poverty, Human Rights




In Communities, Poverty, Human Rights:


  • There is widespread concern among lower income households across Scotland about their financial situation. This is driven by reduced income as a result of job loss, reduced working hours and furlough, and with unemployment predicted to rise in the medium term, this insecurity may accelerate
  • Personal debt has escalated during the crisis, potentially trapping households in unmanageable debt and poverty in the future
  • While some groups’ rights (for instance access to high quality public services, freedom from discrimination or rights to privacy) may have been negatively affected by the crisis, public perception of the coronavirus response in Scotland has been positive and communities have felt more empowered in some respects

Related outcomes

  • Given the evidence of financial strain among families, the outcomes for children will be affected by these trends as poverty is a key factor in health and children’s outcomes
  • Indirectly, households experiencing reduced finances or rising debt may economise by reducing expenditure on engagement with the environment, healthy activities or cultural attendance and participation with consequent impacts on those outcomes
  • Any decisions to cut back on, for instance, extracurricular activities for children, may result in long term impacts on educational attainment and the skill profile of the population


Household incomes

The COVID-19 labour market crisis has adversely impacted household incomes, as many workers have been made redundant, furloughed or have had their working hours or wages cut. This has resulted in unprecedented levels of financial distress and hardship particularly for those experiencing socio-economic disadvantage.  This fall in earnings follows the 2008 financial crisis and post EU referendum income squeezes, resulting in increased pressure on incomes.


Evidence from April 2020 suggests that households in the lowest fifth of incomes saw a more substantial decline than other groups in their pre-COVID earnings.[i]  In May, household incomes had fallen across the UK by 4.5% compared with the previous year.[ii]


While increases in welfare payments have partially mitigated falls in income for some lower income households, the effects have been dampened by policies such as the benefit cap and the two child limit,[iii] as well as features of Universal Credit such as the need for new claimants to wait at least five weeks before their first payment.[iv] Some of the key support measures are also due to be reversed in April 2021, while  the labour market impacts may still be being felt at that time.[v] [vi]


Living through the pandemic


Feedback from Scotland’s Poverty Commissions in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee and North Ayrshire to the Social Renewal Advisory Board highlighted concerns that COVID-19 was increasing the number of people living in poverty and making things worse for those already experiencing poverty. These included concerns such as losing 20% of an already low wage while on furlough or finding social security benefits insufficient or delayed.


“It’s a terrifying time for a lot of people. What’s the new normal going to be? The crisis has highlighted how many people live anyway. My hope is that some of the people now having a tough time will think to themselves: is this how much people have to live on normally? When this is over, we need to say: a large proportion of the city’s people won’t be getting back on their feet because we live in a really unequal city and now it’s time to fix it.”[vii]


Voices from Scotland on COVID-19’s impact

Cost of living, debt and savings


Many households went into the crisis already struggling financially and without savings to cushion them from a fall in income.  A third of households in Scotland (34%) were financially vulnerable in 2016-18, meaning that they did not have enough savings to cover basic living costs for three months. [viii] This rose to over half (55%) of households in the lowest 10% income grouping and just 12% of those in the highest income group. While some households with higher levels of income can draw on their savings to cushion shocks to their earnings, those on low incomes or with less wealth may be less resilient.


The evidence so far suggests that the direct and immediate economic effects of this crisis are falling disproportionately on those on low pay with little savings as a buffer.[ix] As some households lose income, there will be a knock-on effect in terms of their ability to manage non-discretionary living costs (such as food, heating and housing) leaving some in financial difficulty.[x]


Conversely, household budgets were often strengthened during lockdown for those with higher incomes: 50% of adults in the top income quintile have seen falling outgoings compared to 30% in the bottom quintile. [xi] By July, UK households with earnings of £35,000 and above had increased their net bank balances on average, while those households earning less than that had seen them decrease.[xii]


In July, 58% of Scottish adults agreed that coronavirus would have a financial impact on themselves and their family, and around a quarter of adults were concerned about being able to pay their bills or provide for their household.[xiii] One in five households with dependent children reported that they were “in serious financial difficulty”.[xiv] With unemployment predicted to rise in the medium term,[xv] this reduction in household incomes is likely to persist. Planned changes to benefits in April are predicted to increase the numbers of those in relative poverty in the UK in 2021-22 by one million.[xvi]


Lower income households were also found to be twice as likely as richer ones to have increased their debts during the crisis, to be more likely to be saving less, and to report a higher level of credit card use.[xvii] Debt associated with housing is also likely to be increased when mortgage holidays and the evictions ban end, as some may be unable to pay back arrears.[xviii]  The crisis has not led to an increase in repossessions at this time[xix], however rent arrears are up in the social rented sector, with £163 million owed in July 2020, up from £150 million in April 2020. In June, 26% of renters surveyed for Citizens Advice Scotland were concerned about making payments, compared with only 19% of mortgage holders concerned about mortgage repayments.[xx]


Essentials such as food and fuel account for a greater proportion of the income of households experiencing poverty,[xxi] and potential price rises in essential foods (e.g. in the wake of a no-deal Brexit[xxii]) or in fuel usage (e.g. due to greater time spent at home) will impact poorer households disproportionately.


In June, a quarter of adults in Scotland reported being very or somewhat worried about affording enough food for themselves or their household in the next month. Based on projections of rises in unemployment, the Food Foundation estimates that between 252,000 and 337,000 more working age adults in the UK will become food insecure in the six months from September 2020.[xxiii] Rising unemployment could also increase rates of fuel poverty,[xxiv] although levels of concern about energy matters as a result of lockdown and social distancing currently remain low.[xxv]

Benefit claims

More people are now claiming benefits. In October 2020, 473,500 people in Scotland were receiving Universal Credit, an increase of 94% since January, and an increase of 109% since October 2019.[xxvi] The Alternative Claimant Count, which provides a consistent measure of unemployment over time, was 6.4% in August, double the rate in August 2019 (3.2%).[xxvii] Scottish Welfare Fund crisis grant applications were 46% higher in the first quarter of 2020/21 than in the same quarter last year. [xxviii] While the caseload of Universal Credit has increased for each family type, the distribution between groups has changed during COVID-19 – with young people, men, and single people without children making up a larger proportion of the caseload than previously.[xxix]


In the period from April to June 2020, the number of hate crimes reported in Scotland was 5% higher than at the same time the previous year, with the increase showing from mid-May.[xxx] A significant number of these related to neighbour disputes, which may reflect increased pressures associated with lockdown and the pandemic[xxxi], although the police have also suggested other possible factors responsible for this rise, such as the protests and counter demonstrations over the Black Lives Matter movement that occurred during the same period.


Online communication has been a vital substitute for in-person social contact during the lockdown and restrictions, but an increased reliance on social media may also have negative impacts for some groups. In a survey of young people in Scotland aged 12-24, almost half (47%) had seen or experienced online bullying during lockdown, with over half saying this took place at an increased level.[xxxii] 59% had seen prejudicial posts, comments and/or attitudes increase online, 45% witnessed more racism, while 36% reported an increase in homophobic material. Higher rates of online bullying and prejudice were perceived by LGBT+ respondents.


There are also indications of increased experience of discrimination and infringements of rights offline too. In a Youth Parliament Focus, participants said they had not faced any direct discrimination as a result of COVID-19 but most were able to give an example of indirect discrimination. Examples included disproportionate consideration seen to be given to Christmas compared to Ramadan or Eid, or an expectation that disseminated information would be translated by some children for their parents or elders.


Living through the pandemic


“I personally haven't seen in any way shape or form the like government reaching out to the black community and being like ‘so here's how you should combat this, here's how you should further protect yourself.[xxxiii]


Voices from Scotland on COVID-19’s impact


The Ethnic Minority National Resilience Network highlighted an increased chance of prejudice towards Far East Asian communities during the pandemic and towards those identified on social media as not following social distancing measures, such as Roma.[xxxiv] A survey by Disability Equality Scotland also found that experience of discrimination and hate crimes increased for disabled workers during lockdown, with fears that public understanding has degraded.[xxxv]

Safer communities

Since lockdown there has been a reduction in crime recorded by the police. The overall number of crimes recorded between April and October 2020 was 7% lower than the same period in 2019 and for the most recent month, October 2020, recorded crime was 8% lower than in October 2019.[xxxvi]


While there has been a reduction in most types of crime during the crisis, there has also been an increase in some types, including fraud. It is difficult to attribute all changes during this period to COVID-19 impact, due to the likely continuation of longer term trends and procedural changes in how some crimes are recorded (including crimes committed using digital technologies).


The first quarter of 2020-21 also saw increases in child sexual abuse crimes recorded (up 21% to 2019-20) and domestic abuse incidents reported (up 8.8% compared to 2019-20) to Police Scotland.[xxxvii]  Domestic abuse incidents have fallen since then, and in October dipped below 2019 levels for the first time during the pandemic period.


Access to justice has also been impacted during the pandemic by the build-up of backlogs in solemn and summary criminal business in the Scottish Courts.[xxxviii]  Courts are now returning to normal levels of activity, however, there are other aspects of the justice system under strain, e.g. prisons are near capacity and physical distancing requirements have placed constraints on the work of criminal justice social workers.

Public services and local democracy

Public services have needed to respond swiftly and flexibly to address the needs of individual and communities that have been most at risk during the pandemic.  This has resulted in the emergence of some innovative and person-centred provision based on collaboration between services, which has overcome former barriers and provided effective support to people in need. For example, in an initial response to the pandemic, local authorities and charities supported virtually all people sleeping rough or staying in congregate shelters into self-contained accommodation.[xxxix]  Local authorities and community planning partners have also been at the centre of responsive local approaches, working with partners to understand the needs of communities at risk and using community hubs to provide rounded support, focused on the wellbeing of individuals, households and neighbourhoods.[xl]


Public satisfaction with the quality of public services has also been high during the pandemic. In the last week of August, for example, 87% of people in Scotland thought the NHS was doing a good job. Satisfaction with Police Scotland among those contacting them in the first quarter of 2020-21 was 71%, where incidents were not related to COVID-19, and 60% where they were.[xli]


The Scottish Human Rights Commission, however, have highlighted questions over whether the approach taken to the coronavirus in Scotland’s care homes has been sufficient and appropriate to protect the human rights of residents and staff, [xlii] with 46% of COVID-19 deaths registered by July related to these establishments.[xliii]


Living through the pandemic


The listening events which took part in communities in 31 local authority areas as part of the work of the Social Renewal Advisory Board tell a compelling story of empowerment in the face of adversity. The overwhelming sense in reading the records of those conversations is of communities doing what was needed to help each other, without waiting to ask for permission, and of swift, flexible responses from third sector organisations and local authorities to focus on what was needed.


“Before now, we worked to the council’s structures around our communities and actually we learned during COVID that people want to help and want to be engaged, all of the structures around actually stopped that happening. We don’t need meetings and plans and lists.”


“No one person or group is in charge. I now say to my neighbours, that’s a great idea, just go do it, don’t worry if it’s allowed or not. It’s allowed. If others want to be part of it, they’ll join you. If they don’t, they’ll do something else. It’s OK.”[xliv]


Voices from Scotland on COVID-19’s impact

Communities and social connectedness

The pandemic has brought unprecedented disruption to citizens’ social and community connections through the closure of most of the usual hubs for social interaction between different groups of people. Reflecting this, several measures of “social capital” fell sharply during the lockdown period.[xlv]  In particular, the proportion of people who had met others socially at least once in the previous week fell from 73% at the baseline (in 2018) to 35% in July 2020, and the proportion of people who felt lonely some or all of the time rose from 21% at the baseline to 56% in July.  The proportion of people who felt they had someone to turn to for help and advice also dropped steeply from 77% at the baseline to 50% in July.


Alongside the clear disruption to normal connections, there is also evidence of communities taking action to reach out and help each other in response to the pandemic.  This has included neighbours providing one another with informal support, communities self-organising and an overwhelming response to requests for volunteers.  A public survey for Volunteer Scotland during June found that volunteering participation increased by half during the pandemic (from 48% to 74%), with higher numbers than previously (59%) expected to volunteer post-COVID.[xlvi] This picture will likely vary across different communities in Scotland.  Nonetheless, a compelling story has emerged of strong community spirit in the face of adversity.


Living through the pandemic


The Social Renewal Advisory Board Community Listening Events highlighted examples of people noticing increased care and kindness, with neighbours reaching out to each other and organising to provide help:


“Before COVID, we didn’t know our neighbours anymore, now we do. If we all checked in with our neighbours 3 doors down and 3 doors up regularly, we’d all be happier.  Now I’ll check on someone if I have noticed their curtains haven’t been opened for a few days.” [xlvii]


“I noticed a lot of people changed their attitude towards helping others in the community, I definitely did as I helped people around me and they also helped me and my dad, people came together to help other people, this has happened in the past but the virus made people work more together and look after each other.” [xlviii]


Voices from Scotland on COVID-19’s impact


The medium and longer term impacts of the pandemic on community connection and wellbeing are uncertain.  Notwithstanding the effort that many individuals and organisations have made to reach out and help keep people connected, continuing restrictions mean that those efforts may not be enough to sustain wellbeing for many people. However, if the shifts in the actions of individuals, communities and public services are sustained beyond the crisis, the impact on the communities outcome could be significant.








[vii] Poverty and Coronavirus in Edinburgh, Edinburgh Poverty Commission, May 2020



















[xxvi] DWP, Stat-Xplore. Figures for October are provisional.

[xxvii] The alternative claimant count takes into account differences in Universal Credit and the legacy system it is replacing.



[xxx] 30 September 2020 SPA Authority Meeting - Scottish Police Authority



[xxxiii] Youth Parliament BAME focus group, Nov 2020











[xliv] Social Renewal Advisory Board. Community Listening Events. 2020.


[xlvi] Ipsos MORI survey for Volunteer Scotland, undertaken June 2020

[xlvii] Social Renewal Advisory Board. Community Listening Events. 2020.

[xlviii] Social Renewal Advisory Board. Community Listening Events. 2020.

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