Last updated: 21 September 2021

COVID-19 affects everyone, but the harms caused by the pandemic are not felt equally. It is important that we have evidence on these different impacts, so that we can take decisions which balance the needs of different people.

Everyone has more than one different ‘protected’ characteristic. For example their sex, their ethnicity, their age, their sexual orientation, their religion and whether or not they have a disability. These different characteristics come together to shape our identities, and can shape our lives. They can sometimes act in combination to create multiple layers of disadvantage. Looking at these factors together is often described as ‘intersectional analysis’; it really means understanding how certain factors can interact when combined. Socio-economic circumstances are not a ‘protected characteristic’ but they also have a strong bearing on how people live, and there are links between deprivation and some protected characteristics (e.g. it can be more common to live in poverty if you are disabled or from a minority ethnicity).

When these different characteristics lead to people having different experiences of something due to discrimination, conscious or unconscious bias, or missed opportunities by employers or service providers to advance equality, there is a risk of people experiencing unequal outcomes.

These unequal social and economic circumstances will have shaped people’s experiences of lockdown and continued restrictions. These differences will also have shaped the impact that COVID-19 has had, and continues to have, on their lives.

For example, a minority ethnic woman may have a different experience to either a minority ethnic man or a white British woman. The information below is intended to illustrate the cumulative impact of inequalities that could be experienced by the examples of different people. These examples have been chosen as they reflect a balance of the available information on different impacts of COVID-19.

The information below illustrates how factors can build and reinforce inequality based on examples of different people. It is difficult to evidence intersectionality using data but this is something we are seeking to improve. For more details on evidence we already have about how these experiences and impacts have been different, please go to the Equality Evidence Finder and COVID-19 Equality Evidence.

Colour Code

Harm 1: Direct health impacts of COVID-19

Harm 2: Health impacts not directly related to COVID-19

Harm 3: Societal impacts

Harm 4: Economic impacts




1. A young woman of Pakistani Scottish ethnicity

People from a South Asian ethnic background have experienced disproportionately high numbers of COVID-19 deaths.

If in employment, women and people from a minority ethnic background are more likely to work as a ‘key worker’ in a role that carries greater infection risk

People from a South Asian ethnic background are more likely to:

  • Live in a multi-generational household, for example with older relatives
  • Live in a more deprived area, which makes them more likely to:
    • Have fewer or less accessible local amenities like shops or GP surgeries
    • Live in more overcrowded housing
    • Have limited access to outdoor green spaces

Women and younger people are more likely to report feeling anxious in April-May and December 2020.

Younger people are more likely to report feelings of loneliness in March, April and December 2020.

Younger people are less likely to say they could rely on others in their neighbourhood for help.

Women are more likely to:

  • say they are finding the current restrictions on socialising difficult to cope with, have been sleeping badly, and have less a sense of purpose at the moment
  • have major worries about friends or family, or themselves becoming seriously ill with COVID, and their own and others' mental health

If in employment, women, young people & people from a minority ethnic background are more likely to:

  • Work in a ‘shutdown’ sector
  • Earn less than the Living Wage, and to live in relative poverty
  • Be on an insecure contract, and more susceptible to reductions in hours or pay, or to redundancy

Young people (aged under 35) are more likely to have lost their job or been made redundant.

If they are studying or looking for work, young people are:

  • Less likely to be recruited into new jobs, and to experience a ‘scarring effect’ – a pay squeeze over a number of years following an economic shock
  • More likely to have their education or training disrupted


2. A young, gay, disabled man

Disabled people are more likely to experience exacerbation of already poor physical health and a higher risk of death due to COVID-19.

Disabled people are:

  • More likely to have poorer physical health
  • More likely to experience disruptions and risks in social care and unpaid care arrangements, for example support workers or family members being unable to provide care if ill or self-isolating

Disabled people and members of the LGBT community are more likely to have poorer mental health

Younger people and disabled people are more likely to report feelings of anxiety and loneliness in March-May and December 2020.

Young people and disabled people are more likely to:

  • Live in a household in poverty
  • Live in social rented housing, and to live in an area where they have limited access to green spaces

Disabled people are less likely to use digital technology regularly

Disabled people are more likely say they had less regular social contact.

Disabled people are more likely to report not receiving the support they need, including financial help to pay for essentials, help with a health condition unrelated to COVID-19, and help with their mental health.

Disabled people are more likely to say they:

  • are finding the current restrictions on socialising difficult to cope with
  • feel cut off from friends and family
  • are sleeping badly
  • have less of a sense of purpose
  • have been having more arguments with the people they live with

Younger people and disabled people are more likely to have major worries about:

  • their own mental health
  • a family member/ friend’s mental health
  • their financial situation/ losing their job

Younger people, disabled people and men are less likely to say they could rely on others in their neighbourhood for help.

Young people and disabled people are:

  • Less likely to be in employment
  • If working, more likely to be paid below the Living Wage, on an insecure contract, and working in ‘shutdown’ sectors
  • More likely to be financially vulnerable and in unmanageable debt

Young people (aged under 35) are more likely to have lost their job or been made redundant.

If studying or looking for work, young people are:

  • Less likely to be recruited into new jobs, and to experience a ‘scarring effect’ – a pay squeeze over a number of years following an economic shock
  • More likely to have their education or training disrupted

Disabled people are more likely to:

  • be experiencing difficulties paying bills, getting things for children, paying rent or mortgage, and collecting pensions or benefits
  • not be managing well financially – and report being in deep financial trouble
  • have used savings, cut back on essential items, applied for a council tax reduction and got food from a food bank to manage a reduced income


3. Older man living in a deprived area

Age-standardised death rates for COVID-19 have been twice as high for people living in the 20% most-deprived areas compared to the 20% least deprived areas

Older men are more likely to experience severe health impacts of COVID-19:

  • Death rates are much higher for men after age standardisation
  • Deaths rates involving COVID-19 have been far higher for older people
  • Older people are more likely to have a pre-existing long-term health condition

People living in more deprived areas are more likely to experience poorer mental and physical wellbeing

People living in deprived areas are more likely to:

  • Have fewer or less accessible local amenities like shops or GP surgeries
  • Live in more overcrowded housing
  • Have limited access to outdoor green spaces

People living in more deprived areas of Scotland are more likely to:

Men and people living in a more deprived area are less likely to say they could rely on others in their neighbourhood for help.

People aged over 35 are less likely to report regular social contact (more than once a week).

Older people are:

  • More likely to own their own home outright
  • Less likely to be in poverty or to say that they’re not managing well financially
  • More likely to provide 50 hours or more of (unpaid) care each week

People living in the most deprived areas of Scotland are more likely to report their income being lower during the pandemic.

People living in the most deprived areas of Scotland are more likely to:

  • be experiencing difficulties paying bills, paying for food, getting medicine, getting things for school, collecting pensions or benefits
  • be evicted or at risk of eviction
  • not be managing well financially


4. A socio-economically disadvantaged, middle aged, lone parent

If in employment, women and lone parents are more likely to work as a ‘key worker’ in a role that carries greater infection risk

The vast majority (90%) of lone parents are women:

People aged over 35 are less likely to report regular social contact (more than once a week).

Single parent families are more likely to be financially vulnerable, and closure of schools & ELC providers affects low income and single parent families especially severely:

  • They are more likely to lack the space, resources or flexible working arrangements to meet an unexpected need for childcare or home schooling.
  • Children from poor and low income households are more likely to rely on school meals to meet their daily nutritional requirements.
  • Less likely to have digital technology and data/internet for work, schooling and accessing public services.

People on lower household incomes are more likely to:

  • report feelings of anxiety
  • report feelings of loneliness - people who said they were not doing well financially were more than twice as likely to report loneliness than those who said they were doing very or quite well financially

Those on the lowest income band are twice more likely to report lower levels of happiness than those in the highest income band.

People living in more deprived areas are less likely to say they could rely on others in their neighbourhood for help.

Three-quarters of lone parent households are already financially vulnerable and more likely to be in unmanageable debt

Women and lone parents are more likely to have caring responsibilities which makes it hard to maintain or take on employment.

If in employment, women and lone parents are more likely to:

  • Work in a ‘shutdown’ sector and to have been furloughed
  • Work part-time, earn less than the Living Wage, and to live in relative poverty
  • Be on an insecure contract, and more susceptible to reductions in hours or pay, or to redundancy

People on lower household incomes are more likely to have lost their job or been made redundant than those in higher income households.



5. A mixed sex couple in their early 20s where the woman is pregnant

If in employment women are more likely to work as a ‘key worker’ in a role that carries greater infection risk

Pregnant women are at higher risk of infections generally but are outside the shielded group, meaning they are at increased risk of illness from COVID-19.

Redistribution of key medical staff and suspension of treatments for non-COVID related health issues particularly impacts on pregnant women. For procedures that require in-person medical attention, the strain on resources may lead to impaired health outcomes.

Childbearing is linked to increased weight gain enduring beyond one year after childbirth, which is a risk factor for serious illness from COVID-19.

Young people are more likely to:

  • Live in a household in poverty
  • Live in social rented housing, and to live in an area where they have limited access to green spaces

Younger people are less likely to say they could rely on others in their neighbourhood for help.

Younger people are more likely to report feeling anxious and lonely in March-April and December 2020.

Younger people are more likely to have major worries about their own mental health, a family member/ friend’s mental health, family or friends becoming seriously ill with COVID and their financial situation/ losing their job.

Domestic abuse often starts or escalates during pregnancy, and emerging qualitative evidence suggests lockdown has provided domestic abuse perpetrators with opportunities to increase the frequency and severity of their abuse. This is further compounded by an inability for some to access the usual routes to support and safety.

Young people are:

  • Less likely to be in employment
  • If working, more likely to be paid below the Living Wage, on an insecure contract, and working in ‘shutdown’ sectors
  • More likely to be financially vulnerable and in unmanageable debt

Young people (aged under 35) are more likely to have lost their job or been made redundant.

Early parenthood is associated with lower earnings, making young parents more likely to be financially vulnerable