Adapting in adversity during COVID-19
The combined evidence from three of our funding programmes that support people experiencing multiple disadvantage – Fulfilling Lives, Women and Girls Initiative and Help through Crisis shows, in many cases, that pre-existing disadvantage has become worse during COVID-19 and organisations have been rapidly adapting the support they provide.
Our Evaluation Team share some insights about what organisations have done, what’s worked well and what the ongoing challenges are.
Digital – a new basic need
Many organisations are supporting people with the essentials for survival – food, medicine, accommodation. But there is increasing recognition that, in 2020, digital connectivity is a basic need too. It’s important for accessing professional support, much of which is being delivered remotely, and to help with social connections.
However, poverty limits access to technology and some people don’t have computers or smartphones. Women and Girls Initiative projects have found that women and girls from Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities are less likely to be able to get online. Some organisations have been helping people to buy mobile phone credit and mobile data so they can be connected.
For people needing remote professional support, access to private space matters – for both the people being supported and staff. One project has provided white noise machines to try to help people have more privacy for their conversations with support workers, if they’re worried about being overheard by others in the household.
Beyond the practical considerations, some organisations feel that it’s challenging to build trusting relationships, and fully understanding someone’s needs, without meeting in person. Particularly if there wasn’t a strong relationship there already or if someone is new to a service. As a result, organisations are keen to keep developing person-centred practices when working online.
That said, some projects feel that offering support online or by phone gives people more control over how and when they engage. Several organisations have seen people engaging more with remote support - possibly because it can be easier and more convenient than meeting face-to-face. They plan to keep offering online and phone support when lockdown ends.
Understanding trauma and seeing people’s resilience
People affected by multiple disadvantage are more likely to have experienced trauma in their lives. Lockdown can re-trigger this trauma. For example, if someone has experienced domestic or sexual abuse in the past, their normal coping strategies might not be available right now.
Organisations welcome the emergency funding from government to help those experiencing homelessness access safe accommodation during COVID-19 as a positive step.
Confinement in hotels and other temporary accommodation can be a difficult experience for some and understandably, hotel staff may not be fully equipped to support people experiencing difficulties, for example, people who have self-harmed or experience panic attacks. This highlights the importance of specialist support and housing arrangements that are tailored to individual needs.
However, organisations want to emphasise people’s resilience and ability to cope, as well as the disadvantage they face. For example, Fulfilling Lives partnerships have highlighted that people who have been in prison may be better at adapting to life in lockdown and have skills everyone could learn from.
Don’t forget staff well-being
Working remotely during COVID-19 can add extra stresses and strains for staff, as they juggle work and home life. This is on top of workloads made heavier by the need the pandemic is creating.
Organisations explain that staff feel the emotional toll of supporting people through challenging and upsetting circumstances, whilst being isolated from the support of their colleagues.
Because of this, many organisations are focusing on supporting staff well-being. Some activities aim to enable professional development and reflective practice. Others aim to help staff de-stress and take time for themselves, for example, through mindfulness sessions, as well having regular check-ins with colleagues.
An uncertain future
Organisations are also worried about what the future holds. They expect a surge in demand for their services as support schemes end and we emerge into a changed environment. For example, Help Through Crisis partnerships are concerned that some of the people they support might struggle in a post-COVID-19 world if there is increased competition for jobs.
Coupled with this, organisations are worried about their financial future. Many have increased costs as a result of COVID-19, but are uncertain where longer term funding will come from. Some are concerned that funding won’t reach small, specialist organisations with the knowledge and networks to reach the most disadvantaged as well as the ability to respond quickly and flexibly.
Despite this, organisations have a shared desire to take the opportunities that COVID-19 has created to work differently and use these experiences to create a better future. They want some of the more flexible and collaborative approaches enabled by the pandemic to become permanent changes to systems.
In this blog and in the Adapting in Adversity report, organisations have presented the experiences of those they support. We feel it’s important to hear directly from people experiencing multiple disadvantage too, so their voices are central to conversations about the future. For our part, we’ll be considering how we can help to do this through our evidence work.