New reports on living through COVID-19

March 10, 2022

The Centre for Ageing Better has published two new reports, based on research conducted by NatCen Social Research, examining volunteering and community connectedness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first report, Volunteering and helping out in the COVID-19 outbreak, aims to understand the patterns of formal volunteering and informal support that emerged in, and between, July 2020 and November 2020.

The second report, Community connectedness in the COVID-19 outbreak, investigates how people across England related to their neighbourhoods as the COVID-19 pandemic challenged individuals and communities while reducing their access to traditional mechanisms of support.

The data used in these reports was collected in two survey waves of the NatCen Opinion Panel, using a probability-based sample recruited from people who had previously responded to the British Social Attitudes survey. The qualitative study consisted of 30 in-depth telephone or online interviews with people who agreed to be contacted after survey. To be eligible for the qualitative study, participants had to say that they were ‘just getting by’, or ‘finding it quite difficult’ or ‘very difficult’ to manage financially.

People’s subjective feelings about their income or economic situation, and long term-health conditions, were important in affecting their feelings about connections with others. But they were not the only or main factors determining this during the pandemic. Three broad patterns emerged:

  • The effects of measures used to try to control and manage the pandemic on in-person connections both weakened and strengthened connections. Anxieties about being infected with COVID-19, lockdowns, shielding, self-isolation and social distancing tended to weaken connections. The idea of ‘support bubbles’ and ‘online communities’ and a sense of a community spirit in tackling the virus tended to strengthen connections.
  • Participants said community cohesion was linked to turnover of residents in the locality, associated perceptions of crime and personal safety, and their sense of people’s likely neighbourliness. The interviews supported the finding from the surveys that it was more difficult to maintain or develop a sense of social connection in areas where there was a higher turnover of residents. This applied to rural areas where there was a high number of non-resident second homes or holiday homes.
  • The usual social networks of support, and preferences for social contact that people had, changed due to the pandemic. For example, people who lived alone, and/or did not have family or friends living nearby, had to reach out to neighbours for the help and support they needed. This sometimes went against their desire to ‘keep to themselves’.

A larger number of people contributed to and benefited from informal helping out at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak than at the time of the second national lockdown. In fact, most people in this study said that they had both given and received informal help during the first lockdown. This appears to have largely been an emergency response at the start of the pandemic because levels of informal help received dropped in the second lockdown. This may be because people learnt to adapt and cope with the new situation or because the economy started to re-open, and many people returned to work or usual social activities later in the pandemic.

Informal helping out was more targeted towards the most vulnerable groups in the second lockdown than it had been at the start of the outbreak. Therefore, while levels of helping out dropped between July and November 2020 it was better concentrated on those more likely to need assistance later in the pandemic, particularly older and more vulnerable groups.

Patterns of formal volunteering during the pandemic were similar to those found before the COVID-19 outbreak. For example, people in more secure financial positions were more likely to formally volunteer during the pandemic. In contrast to previous findings, this study found that rates of formal volunteering were higher among participants from BAME backgrounds than from White backgrounds. This was particularly the case for people under the age of 50 and is consistent with other analyses of volunteering during the pandemic.

People from BAME backgrounds were more likely to have offered informal assistance during the second national lockdown than the first, compared to people from a White background. People below the age of 50 from BAME backgrounds were also more likely than those from a White background to have engaged in formal volunteering either before or during the pandemic.

Visit the Centre for Ageing Better website to read the reports on COVID-19 experiences in full.

In other news, the Government has lost a vote in the House of Lords relating to the proposed amendment to the cap on social care costs.

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