Ian BruceThis is the second coronavirus article written by our Chief Executive, Ian Bruce.  The first article looked back at our learning since the outbreak of coronavirus. This article looks at the impact on communities. 

I must confess that when the coronavirus outbreak began, I naively believed it would have a short impact on life as we know it.  It would be horrible, but it would also be quick and over before summer. It is now clear to everyone that the reality is quite different. Coronavirus will likely be a continuing challenge for the rest of this year and beyond.

At GCVS, we have stopped planning for any return to “normal” in this financial year. The lockdown may be eased to respond to economic pressures or if public opinion changes, but people will need or want to keep taking steps to minimise the risk of infection. The Scottish Government’s “Test, Track, Trace, Support” approach will be critical once the infection rate is down, to keep it low.

Over the last fortnight political and voluntary sector conversations have turned from the immediate crisis response, to thinking about how what the crisis and its fall-out means as we move forward.  We have started to think about three key questions:

  • What will it mean for people and communities?
  • What challenges will our sector face?
  • What type of society do we want post COVID?

This article considers the first of these questions.  Future articles will cover the remaining two.

What will it mean for people and communities?

The pressure on hospitals has been widely publicised and is hopefully beginning to abate. But COVID-19 is not only a physical health issue.   It has also brought additional pressures on poverty, social care, mental health and personal & family crisis.  None of these are new problems, but we could already little afford for them to get worse.  People who were “coping” have already been pushed into crisis.  This will get worse before it gets better.

When I spoke earlier this year at the Glasgow State of the Economy event, I reflected that roughly every decade for the last 60 we have seen an economic or social change that has fallen hardest on the shoulders of the poor.  At the time I thought the next one was going to be Brexit.  I was wrong – or at least I was half wrong.  It will be coronavirus and Brexit.

Coronavirus will have a major negative impact on the economy and jobs.  The pain of that will not fall fairly.  Low pay industries like retail and hospitality are likely to feel the brunt of it.  According to the Resolution Foundation in the top half of incomes, 90% of jobs can be done working from home.  In the bottom half of income that falls to just 10%.  The impact on a city already deeply challenged by poverty is clear.

One of the low paid sectors that could form an example of how to create a fairer economy is social care.  Social care provision in the city already had well known challenges in recruitment and capacity.  The extra requirements associated with reducing the risk of transmission and safeguarding staff will be stretching capacity still further and we know that in order to maintain support to those who will die without it, others have had their care reduced or even removed.

Social care has faced many challenges over the years – it remains a nationally under-funded service and local partnerships have had to provide support on ever-reducing resources.   But the removal of support cannot and must not be sustained. People are entitled to and should expect support that enables them to live their life. Now is the time for real change in social care.  We must pay care workers a rate that reflects the value of their work, innovate and develop new models of care, reconsider our approaches to commissioning and ensure people have real choice in what they receive.

Another area where we were already struggling as a society is mental health.  Loneliness, anxiety, stress and depression were already too common before COVID came along.  The current circumstances are not helping, and the longer this goes on the worse the problem will be.  It is essential that we put in place work to support everyone’s mental health, while ensuring that support is currently available to those who need it.  This cannot simply be to push everything online – let’s remember the digital divide in our city.

We must also consider the mental health of the people who are working hardest to support people and communities.  Many in the public and voluntary sector will be feeling the strain right now. I have spoken to many people who feel they should be doing more even as they stretch themselves to help as many people as possible.  Kindness is an essential trait right now, and it starts with being kind to yourself.   It is a testament to the third sector that we have responded in the way we have, despite continued financial challenges.

I said in the first of these articles that it was important to note that COVID had not been a social equaliser as some had claimed.  As well as those on low incomes, reliant on care or dealing with poor mental health, this includes:

  • Unpaid carers who may have to shield to protect the person they love and care for, struggling to access PPE or basic essentials.  The lack of meaningful change to carers benefits has been notable by its absence.
  • People, including children, suffering domestic abuse, suddenly forced to spend nearly every waking moment with their abuser.  Respite, such as going to school, withdrawn from them, the people who might have helped suddenly kept at a distance.  For these people the public messaging of “staying safe at home” is tragically flawed.
  • People who don’t have the same opportunities to use digital.  If someone doesn’t have the physical ability, knowledge of the technology, ownership of a digital device and access to data then they will be excluded.  People who were not excluded before may be now – libraries have closed, and many households will find sharing devices more challenging.
  • People who have other health conditions or symptoms left unchecked.  We know that people with some health conditions have not been able to access support or have chosen not to access it, through either caution around catching coronavirus or a sense of obligation to support the NHS.  There is also strong evidence that people with symptoms of cancer, diabetes and other conditions are not seeking support.  We risk greater pressure on our support services going forward by not responding to this need now.

This is not an exhaustive list.  We have heard from our members about the challenges facing multiple different communities – families of children with additional support needs, BME communities, European citizens without settled status and others.  Our feedback from the event on the 22 April (available here) demonstrates the huge challenges facing society.

There is much work to be done to help everyone get through the coming months.  The voluntary sector will play a significant role in that work. My next article will look at the impact on the sector and what the sector needs to be able to play its part.