COVID-19: Multiple challenges faced during the first five weeks of lockdown

Date: 28th May 2020
Category: Basic Health and Welfare, Civil Rights and Freedoms, Education, Leisure and Cultural Activities

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The concerns of a group of people with lived experience of poverty have been captured in the first five weeks of lockdown. The briefing aims to draw the UK and Scottish Government and Parliament’s attention to the experiences of people in poverty during the pandemic and offer suggestions on how to take a human rights-based approach to directing resources over the coming months.

The group within this briefing are called Adequate Standard of Living (ASL) Reference Group, with a collective experience of:

  • Disability and poverty
  • Mental health and poverty
  • Minority Ethnic identities and poverty
  • LGBTQI identities and poverty
  • Caring and poverty
  • Homelessness
  • In-work poverty
  • Rural poverty
  • Poverty of opportunity
  • Food poverty
  • Age poverty
  • Fuel poverty

The group comes together to act as a reference group on the right to an adequate standard of living (Article 11, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights), as part of Scotland’s National Action Plan on Human Rights (SNAP).

The ASL Reference group expressed that they faced multiple challenges, many of which were interconnected, involved caring responsibilities and were exacerbated by already existing inequalities. Their concerns included:

Ability to access food

In the initial phase of lockdown where supermarkets restricted the quantity of food being purchased, carers within the ASL Reference Group described being challenged by supermarket staff and members of the public, as they needed to purchase food for themselves and the person they cared for. Additionally, individuals who lived in more rural areas expressed that they faced problems getting food delivered to their homes and were reliant upon food delivery volunteers. Finally, one member of the group stated that growing their own food during the summer is a way of managing their food insecurity. However, the closure of garden centres significantly affected this.

Registering as being in a ‘high risk’ group

Some specific groups of people are at the highest risk of severe illness if they become infected with COVID-19, as a result they fall within the ‘high-risk’ group. Scottish Government offers a range of services to enable these individuals to stay inside and be ‘shielded’ from COVID-19. The ASL Reference Group felt that eligibility criteria for being deemed ‘high risk’ should be widened to align with a social model approach to disability. In addition, they felt that the process of identifying individuals who required to be shielded through GP and local authority services had been slow and patchy and had resulted in people being missed.

Securing gas and electricity

Some members of the ASL Reference Group faced problems topping up pre-payment meters, since they could not leave the house due to self-isolating and were unable to contact the electricity company due to very high call volume. The group also noted that people on low incomes often have pay as you go phones and being on hold for long periods of time to chargeable numbers used up people’s credit. This issue was also exacerbated through digital exclusion, meaning that there were no practical ways to resolve it. In the interim, one member reported that the local authority had stepped in to provide assistance through pre-paid energy top up cards, which was a good immediate solution but is unlikely to be sustainable in the long-term.

Other areas of concern raised by the ASL Reference Group involved; the difficulties accessing non-acute managing their long-term health conditions which require regular interaction with primary care staff and non-acute health services the knock-on effect of lockdown on jobs and the further impact unemployment would have on the right to adequate living standards; the lack of PPE available for those still delivering services and unpaid care; the further endangerment to people experiencing domestic violence lockdown conditions are likely to have; the challenges lockdown has upon mental health, the danger of people turning to substance abuse and the increase risk of suicide.

The ASL reference group recommend that any Scottish or UK intervention to COVID-19 should:

  • be temporary and time-limited
  • be necessary and proportionate
  • be non-discriminatory and mitigate inequalities
  • ensure the protection of a minimum core content of rights, including economic, social and cultural rights such as health, housing an adequate standard of living and social security.
  • consider all other options, including financial alternatives

In addition, the ASL reference group recommends that Scottish and UK Government and Parliament should further develop effective listening and monitoring mechanisms, to guarantee the experiences of people, communities and organisations are considered in-decision making processes. This can ensure that the realisation of economic and social rights is maintained as far as possible.