The immediate public health crisis of COVID-19 and the policy responses put in place to combat its spread altered the individual and collective lives of communities across the globe. As with most crises, however, the negative health, social and economic impacts disproportionately affect those already experiencing poverty and disadvantage. Low wage workers, lone parents (a majority of whom are women), young people, those with disabilities, refugees and asylum seekers, and those with complex needs are at most risk of experiencing severe long-term damage from this crisis. Millions more who were just making ends meet are also now at risk of falling into poverty due to the crisis’ economic fallout.

This crisis has also exposed the fragility of the country’s safety net. Due to the sharp in loss in income for some and the impacts of social distancing and isolation on the economy in the immediate term, many more are having to turn to the social security system. The challenges that have accompanied the implementation of Universal Credit system in particular – regarding eligibility criteria, inadequacy of the support and administrative issues – have been further highlighted in this era of unprecedented demand. As more people are needing to rely on social security and public assistance in the coming months, it is vital to understand the impact of COVID-19 on those who are currently, or who will need to be, interacting with the social security system; how the system is (or is not) responding adequately; and/or how this crisis is exacerbating existing challenges faced by particular communities.

The community and third sector rose to meet this challenge on the ground, adapting their existing services or developing new services to serve communities in need. The formal and informal networks of provision that emerged for those most at risk illustrates the agility of this sector. While these groups plug the gaps in provision now, however, there is a need to understand the key issues and priorities for action in the current and future phases of this crisis that can be effectively shared to policymakers and other practitioners.

The insights gathered in this theme aim to interrogated these three intertwined issues – the needs and issues of communities most vulnerable, the public service responses to this crisis (particularly in systems of public assistance) and the community the third sector responses on the ground.




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