Dr Paulina Trevena on why not learning from the pandemic would be a lost opportunity
Migrant and minority ethnic communities in Scotland face many barriers to accessing public services.
When lockdown forced many essential services like councils, GPs and advice bureaus to provide support remotely, the language barrier and digital exclusion became especially problematic. At the same time, the pandemic hit the most vulnerable groups, such as asylum seekers and refugees, especially hard.
Voluntary organisations working with migrant and minority ethnic groups rose to the challenge. Many adapted to meet the needs of their service users, working flexibly, setting up mutual collaborations, and changing or expanding their remit.
This highly challenging time also provided valuable learnings and gave rise to innovations. Key learnings from a study of that time include:
Communication and outreach
Voluntary organisations showed great creativity in tailoring public health messaging - simplifying, translating and sharing it in an accessible way. Many communicated using videos in native languages (often subtitled) and others used visual symbols to support communication. Charities broadened their outreach as much as possible contacting people by text, email, video or voice messaging and social media. Organisations were also mindful of the digitally excluded, sharing key information in written or visual form in public spaces such as community noticeboards and shop windows.
Information videos and documents were shared between voluntary organisations using social media and shared drives. Some organisations, like the Govanhill Community Development Trust, created a directory of local and national services providing support for given needs. Information and resource sharing enabled organisations to keep their clients up to date with the changing Covid-19 regulations, a task which would have been impossible to handle by individual organisations alone.
Co-ordinated approach and partnership working
Umbrella organisations drew local public and/or third sector organisations together, shared intelligence, advised on service delivery, facilitated pulling resources together and established collaborations to address needs locally or across geographical areas. BEMIS, an umbrella body supporting the development of the ethnic minorities voluntary sector and communities in Scotland, coordinated a response to Covid-19 social and health issues in the communities their member organisations represented and supported. BEMIS set up the Ethnic Minority National Resilience Network (EMNRN) as a platform for exchanging information and advice between support organisations, the Scottish Government and other public bodies. BEMIS also supported member organisations in moving services online, and co-ordinated distribution of Scottish Government funds for digital inclusion and inclusive vaccination campaigns.
The pandemic clearly showed that how funding is allocated and distributed has crucial impact on organisations’ capacity to successfully address service users’ needs.
Scottish Government funding and guideline changes were crucial in enabling both public and third sector organisations to deliver effective emergency responses in areas including homelessness and financial support for people with no recourse to public funds. Simplified application and reporting requirements and the discretionary nature of the funding allowed organisations to provide a fast response to urgent needs. Umbrella organisations who received Scottish Government funding were able to introduce innovative ways of redistributing funds. For example, Govanhill Community Development Trust adopted a novel approach which encouraged partnership working rather than competition for funds among smaller organisations in the area. The trust offered bigger pools of money to collaborative initiatives rather than individual applications. This forged new partnerships and pooling of resources, addressing needs more holistically.
Hybrid service provision
The biggest innovation in service provision stemmed from moving to a remote model of working, providing support over the phone and online. Moving services online proved a considerable challenge at the beginning of the pandemic due to lack of access to devices, broadband, or lack of digital skills among service users and also some service providers. This created an opportunity for rapid upgrading of skills and – thanks to additional funding and initiatives such as Connecting Scotland – providing digital access to many previously excluded clients.
The pandemic showed that remote service delivery can be very successful, and in some cases is preferred by both service users and service providers. Doing casework over the phone or via online appointments saves travel time and costs, and can resolve childcare or office space issues. For service providers, moving work meetings online also facilitated establishing new partnerships across geographical areas. Significantly, wellbeing sessions delivered online proved highly beneficial for people’s mental health, and in some cases were more accessible than in-person activities.
Implications for future service provision
Three critical implications for the future follow from these findings:
- Firstly, partnership working allows for pulling resources together, drawing on varied expertise, strengthening outreach and capacity, and addressing needs in a solution-focused, holistic way. We recommend establishing operational, needs-based and adequately funded partnerships spanning the public and third sector.
- Secondly, the way funding is allocated and distributed has crucial impact on organisations’ capacity to successfully address needs. The constant need to compete for funding between individual voluntary organisations does not support partnership working and taking a co-ordinated approach to service provision. Innovative ways of distributing funding among charitable organisations during Covid-19 – promoting working in partnership rather than competing for funds – removed this barrier and are worth keeping.
- Thirdly, while there was a common consensus that remote support cannot and should not fully replace face-to-face meetings, delivering support and training online makes it more accessible for many users. A hybrid model of working is beneficial for both service users and service providers and worth keeping.
Services are now increasingly returning to their usual ways of working. However, we would like to encourage building on the learnings from the pandemic. Not doing so would be a lost opportunity for all.
This blog was written by Dr Paulina Trevena drawing on the findings of “Addressing the needs of Scotland’s migrant and minority ethnic populations under Covid-19: lessons for the future,” a rapid-response study led by Dr Paulina Trevena, with Dr Anna Gawlewicz and Professor Sharon Wright of the University of Glasgow in collaboration with the charities Feniks, Black and Ethnic Minority Infrastructure in Scotland (BEMIS) and the Scottish Refugee Council (SRC). It was based on a review of academic and grey literature, secondary analysis of data from the Migrant Essential Workers project, and new interviews with stakeholders, mainly from the third sector. The review was funded by the Scottish Government Coronavirus (COVID-19) Learning and Evaluation Oversight Group. The full report is available here.