Key workers are facing a tougher time than most others during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new research from the Belong Network and the University of Kent.
The Nuffield-funded study examines the experiences of frontline key workers and community volunteers in their local communities. By comparing people who were only key working, only volunteering, or doing neither, the research exposes important differences for key workers compared with volunteers.
The researchers surveyed 2,027 people from six local authorities and a large set of community organisations to understand their perceptions and experiences during June 2020, as lockdown began to ease but restrictions were still largely in place.
Connections with family
When asked how the pandemic was affecting their connections with their families, 42% of key workers said these had become worse or much worse (and only 34% said they had become better), whereas amongst volunteers only 28% said they had become worse, and 57% said they had become better.
Perceptions of their local area
When asked about the level of deprivation of their own local area compared with other areas, 63% of key workers said their area was worse or much worse, whereas only a 44% of volunteers did so. These perceptions were independent of the actual economic situation of the area.
Trust in politicians
The study also found that key workers’ trust in politicians has diminished and they felt more pessimistic about the future. Volunteers, in contrast, felt more trusting of politicians during the pandemic and felt more optimistic about the future.
Professor Dominic Abrams, said: ‘These perceptions and experiences matter because people find dealing directly with disadvantage tiring and stressful, and family support is a crucial element in helping them cope. Volunteers seem to be in a relatively good place – more likely to see their local area as doing ok, feeling more connected with it, and more likely to be strengthening their family ties. But the relentless pressure faced by key workers may also be affecting their confidence.
“Respondents who perceived their area as being more disadvantaged, and who experienced loosening of family connections also had lower trust in the government and felt more pessimistic about the future.”
“Key workers’ willingness and ability to continue working effectively is vital if we are to cope with the pandemic collectively. A clear message from this evidence is that, as well as building on the strengths of local community and voluntary organisations, government needs to address the social and emotional, and not just economic, needs of key workers.”