Covid has not only been a health crisis, but has dramatically affected people’s social, economic and family life, as well as their mental health.
Londoners earning a low income, living with disability, or experiencing systemic racism were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, a new report has found.
Peer-to-peer research report Pandemic Stories, from Toynbee Hall and Thrive LDN, examined how Covid had impacted communities in relation to finances, advice and information, community support, and mental health.
The findings show how the pandemic has not only been a health crisis, but has dramatically affected people’s social, economic and family life, as well as their mental health.
Sian Williams, Director of Policy at Toynbee Hall, said: “For many people in the communities our peer researchers interviewed, the pandemic is the latest crisis in a steadily worsening series of systemic exclusion and inequality.”
Almost half of participants said their household income had reduced as a result of the pandemic, with the decrease ranging from £50 a month to £2,500 a month. Finding and keeping employment was a key cause of anxiety for respondents.
Some people from Black, Caribbean and Bangladeshi backgrounds reported that they were providing financial support to worse-off family members or friends, either in their local communities or abroad.
One respondent said: “It is giving me all of this psychological pressure. I’ve got people from my country who are more vulnerable and I have to support them financially. Before the Covid they were independent but now their problem becomes mine because I know they are more vulnerable.”
Three out of four respondents had new essential costs that were associated with the pandemic, including food, telephone and internet costs, bills and transportation.
For low-income households, those who were shielding, or people who were unable to shop in person due to disabilities, online shopping minimum purchase requirements and delivery charges resulted in being forced to spend more than they were able to afford.
Some disabled respondents had been using taxis to get to work or essential appointments, as they felt unsafe using public transport due to COVID-19, or were unable to use it due to a lack of support.
Impact on mental health
The report also found that mental health had suffered as a result of the pandemic, with fear being reported as a prevalent emotion. Worries associated with the pandemic included fear of infection, fear of infecting loved ones, combined with uncertainty about the future.
African, Caribbean and Bangladeshi communities have described their distress at seeing so many people in their communities die as a result of Covid.
For some disabled interviewees, the pandemic meant losing their in-home support due to staff sickness or isolation. This led to increased anxiety about daily tasks, and increased feelings of isolation.
One respondent said: “Most sight-dependent people could look out the window and they can think dusk and they can see dawn. But when you’re visually impaired, you’re relying on noises – people going past, going to work or going to school. When you don’t hear those noises, you don’t really have a semblance as to what the time is, what the day is.”
The report recommended that the government should ensure that no resident in the UK receives below a minimum level of liveable income after they have paid their housing costs.
It said: “This is the highest priority for our peer researchers. This is a principle that should be adhered to not only as we weather the economic crisis, but going forwards should be seen as a central pillar of a fairer post-pandemic society.”
The authors advocated affordable internet access at home, and access for marginalised Londoners to advice and opportunities to meet with their neighbours and decision-makers.
They also recommended that disproportionately impacted communities were included in designing the public health response to COVID-19 and other health crises.
Williams said: “In this report, the researchers identify evidence-based solutions and set out the way forward for building stronger community networks, increasing financial resilience, and improving mental wellbeing.
“We believe that acting on these recommendations is essential to community empowerment, and we are working with the peer researchers and a wide range of stakeholders to honour our commitment to co-design. Co-producing a fairer and happier future with those most affected must play a key part of any recovery strategy.”
Alexandra Warren is a freelance journalist.
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