New research captures the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerability and the voluntary and community sector’s rapid supportive response.
A new report, funded by Public Health Wales, highlights how vulnerability emerged in Wales during the Coronavirus pandemic, and how the voluntary and community sector (VCS) has played a critical role in tackling this challenge.
VCS representatives across Wales participated in the research, sharing their experiences in identifying and responding to those most in need during the pandemic. The report highlights that vulnerability was quick to emerge, exacerbated when individuals were unable to access support from particular resources, services and local infrastructure.
Key needs that emerged as a direct result of Coronavirus and the restrictions put in place included worsening mental health due to anxiety and loneliness, economic insecurity due to strained household finances and job loss, digital exclusion, and a loss of many face-to-face services. These emerging vulnerabilities were found to cluster together and were often patterned along pre-existing lines of social inequality.
The research highlights that the VCS has been pivotal in helping to tackle isolation and loneliness, address the consequences of digital exclusion and broker access to statutory services and fill in gaps in provision during this time.
The report identifies seven core assets held by VCS organisations enabling them to rapidly and effectively respond to emerging vulnerability. These are:
- Knowledge and expertise held by staff and volunteers enabling rapid decision-making around operational challenges during times of crisis
- Small size, lack of hierarchy, and quick ratification processes enabling swift innovation
- An holistic approach to understanding a person’s needs
- Being embedded in local communities and connected to local networks
- Collaborating and sharing information with other VCS organisations as well as with the statutory sector
- Volunteers and employees care, commitment and compassion
- Learning from accumulated past experience.
Interviewees reflected on specific challenges faced by the VCS during the pandemic, including lack of secure funding, the impact of digital exclusion on service coverage and the impacts of the pandemic on the wellbeing of the VCS workforce itself. Alongside some of the opportunities the pandemic had created, including the time and cost savings from digital working, increased collaboration with statutory services and greater recognition and appreciation for the VCS sector as a whole.
Dr Richard Kyle, Deputy Head of Research & Evaluation at Public Health Wales, said: ‘This report is unique in that it provides qualitative evidence on the links between emerging vulnerability during the pandemic and pre-existing health inequalities from the perspective of the voluntary and community sector.
‘It also highlights the importance of early identification of those who may be more vulnerable to the direct and indirect impacts of adverse events, related to health, environmental or economic crisis, which provides helpful insight around how we face future challenges. The report shows why preventative approaches to address vulnerabilities and longstanding underlying health inequalities remain key priorities for Public Health Wales.’
Moving into recovery
Dr Daniel Jones, a public health doctor and researcher at Public Health Wales, who co-authored the report, added:
‘We must do all we can to recognise, value and sustain the unique assets offered by VCS organisations to identify and support vulnerability where it emerges.
‘As we move into recovery we hope that this work will help inform the health and social care bodies to plan and develop a co-ordinated approach that harnesses and values of VCS knowledge, insight and practices – particularly flexibility, adaptability and localised responsiveness.’
Dr Sally Rees, National Third Sector Health and Social Care Manager at WCVA said: ‘The findings from this research highlights the important role the VCS has played, from the outset, in supporting vulnerable people in our communities during COVID-19. As this research identifies, there is a need for a co-ordinated approach that values, understands and acknowledges the role the sector in the co-design and co-delivery with citizens of sustainable, well-resourced voluntary and community-based services now, and in the future to reduce the prevalent health inequalities across Wales.’
Report available below