Dr Willis is an Associate Professor in Social Work and Lead Investigator on the DICE study – a three-year study of social inclusion of older people from diverse backgrounds in housing with care and support in England and Wales. Dr Vickery is a Research Associate working on the DICE study. Dr Powell is a Senior Research Associate working on the DICE study. Dr Johnson is a Research Fellow and co-investigator on the DICE study. Professor Cameron and Dr Beach are co-investigators on the DICE study.
The social impact of COVID-19 lockdown measures on older residents’ social connections within housing schemes in the UK.
Paul Willis, University of Bristol, United Kingdom
In the United Kingdom (UK), pandemic lockdowns and self-isolation requirements resulting from the transmission of COVID-19 have placed unprecedented pressure on the psychological and social wellbeing of older adults living independently in the community. National statistics indicate that those living alone, of which older adults make up the largest group in the UK, were more likely to experience ‘lockdown loneliness’ compared to those living with others (ONS, 2021). However, on the basis of age, younger adults (16-24 years) were more likely to report loneliness as a problem compared to older age groups (ONS, 2021). This raises important questions about the social connections of older adults and how these social ties may help counteract social isolation in later life. In this presentation we explore how COVID-19 lockdown measures implemented between March 2020 and January 2021 have impacted on older residents’ social connections and everyday wellbeing within housing schemes that provide care and support services.
As an ageing society increases pressures across a wide portfolio of public policy including housing, there has been growing interest in and demand for different models of housing with care and support (HCS), such as independent living and extra-care schemes, in the UK and internationally. The Diversity in Care Environments (DICE) project is a mixed-methods study, funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council to December 2021, examining social inclusion practices in HCS for older adults (60+ years) in England and Wales. In this paper, we present qualitative findings from the project’s second phase – interviews (cross-sectional and longitudinal) with residents conducted between April 2020 and January 2021 (the majority of whom were living alone). For the cross-sectional fieldwork, 48 participants from across eight housing schemes took part in single, semi-structured interviews. For the longitudinal fieldwork, 18 participants took part in 2-3 interviews spread over a 12–18-month period to capture their experiences of social inclusion and interaction in housing schemes over time. Longitudinal participants were purposively recruited for specific social characteristics including residents with long-term disabilities, identifying as LGBTQ+, and from Black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups. Core themes have been generated using a reflexive thematic analysis approach and the Framework Method for data organisation.
We present and discuss key themes including: the impact of lockdown on sense of community and social ties with others; everyday politics of accessing and using shared communal spaces; the importance of staff presence on site; challenges and conflicts with lockdown compliance; and the overarching tensions between promoting residents’ autonomy versus implementing risk management and safeguarding strategies. To conclude we identify good practices for keeping residents socially connected that were both scheme- and resident-led and elaborate on the implications for maintaining resident wellbeing during lockdowns.
 Office for National Statistics (2021). Mapping loneliness during the coronavirus pandemic. Accessed 23rd June 2021, from https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/articles/mappinglonelinessduringthecoronaviruspandemic/2021-04-07