The impact of COVID-19 on people we support

Since March 2020, the ENABLE Works team has been fantastic – dealing with the rapid change to home working and supporting the people in our services to access financial assistance, foodbanks, healthcare and all kinds of wider support.

We wanted to hear more from the people about the impacts upon them so, in November 2020, we asked them some key questions about the impact of COVID-19 on them in November.

939 people took part in the survey, across 23 local authority areas. The majority of people were aged 17-19, but we spoke to people aged 13 up to 65.

As you’d expect, most people had a learning disability or autism, but we also support people with other disabilities and long-term conditions or more than one – as well as some people (on our Fair Start Scotland programmes) who have other barriers to work.

We asked about the biggest single impact, which was – by far – social isolation. 54% of people told us about how they have been isolating alone, unable to see loved ones and friends for months – a position we are all in, but for disabled people, one which can have huge consequences on access to essentials, health and welfare.

13% of people told us how they had developed a mental health condition or that their existing mental health issue had worsened. Many people told us about increasing anxiety about their own vulnerability and fears for going outside to get basics and worries for the health of their loved ones.

Other people told us about issues they have had with losing loved ones to the virus, having to care for vulnerable family members and manage with worsened financial circumstances. Many people have found it harder to get the medication and healthcare services they need.

Young people told us about the negative impacts that leaving school or college earlier had on their own confidence and ambition for the future.

When the lockdown hit, we were supporting 210 people in employment – with job coaches working alongside them and the employer to help them sustain the job. Unfortunately, as a result of COVID-19, 44% of them lost the job as the business closed or restructured.

19% of the people in work were furloughed, 17% worked differently with modifications put in place (with ENABLE Works support) and 16% saw no change at all in their work. Interestingly, 4% of people resigned from their jobs as well citing anxiety about being out in public and putting themselves or loved ones at risk.

So, what next for people we support looking for work? 22% of people are looking for something completely different now – with ambitions for working in hospitality and retail industries badly impacted.

48% of people were less confident that they’d be able to get a job at all – fearing that disabled people would lose out to employers preferentially hiring the many thousands of non-disabled young people who have also lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic.

Encouragingly, only 6% of people thought they’d be less likely to stay in ENABLE Works services and 85% of people were OK with or liked working with us remotely. The 15% who didn’t like it were struggling to access and use equipment, find space in their houses or found a lot of screen time to be a problem.

We’ve been worried about that too and have got some safe working practices in place for those who need it, as 14% of people we spoke to said that without individual support, they felt that they would not be able to get a job. Supported employment is, after all, about working closely with someone in the workplace – we know that remote support is not sustainable for people with complex disabilities.

What does this mean for ENABLE Works?

We expect to have to support a lot more people with mental health issues and increased anxiety around the inevitable transition out of the tiered lockdown system – so we’re building training for all our team and people we support to ensure we’re equipped to deal with that.

We know a lot of people will have totally changed their ambitions for work – and we’re well equipped to deal with that, vocational profiling and helping people think about their career is what we do best. We will be expecting to work closer with Skills Development Scotland though, as they launch their new programmes re-training people to access new careers.

We’ll also have to transition ourselves, back to a working environment that’s safe for our teams and the people we support. We’re lucky to be part of an organisation that has had care teams working on the frontline during the entire pandemic – and so are in a better place than most to be able to do that safely and smoothly.

Whatever happens though, we’ve proved this year that we’re ready for anything.