Worsening mental health is one of the biggest impacts of the pandemic on those living in the UK (ONS 2021). Pre-pandemic, around one in four people were thought to have a mental health problem. The pandemic is argued to have heightened the risk factors related to mental ill-health such as unemployment, financial insecurity and distress, and significantly reduced access to the mitigating factors such as social engagement, health support and daily exercise.
In our survey, we asked Polish migrant essential workers in the UK to assess their wellbeing, as of February/March 2021, compared to the period before the pandemic – March 2020. Most of them – 55% – stated that their wellbeing deteriorated either significantly (31%) or somewhat (24%), followed by 30% who said it improved in some ways, but deteriorated in others (labelled as “improved/deteriorated” in the graph descriptions below). Only 4% felt better than before the pandemic, while 11% did not report any change.
People with caring responsibilities (40% of our sample) reported deteriorating mental health, with 66% of men and 61% of women in these circumstances saying that their mental health worsened during the pandemic. While men without caring responsibilities were the largest group who stated their wellbeing stayed the same or even improved, women with caring responsibilities were the smallest (28% vs. 7%, respectively). This suggests strongly gendered patterns in Covid-19 impacts on mental health (although this might be affected by men feeling less comfortable admitting a mental health problem).
Change in personal financial situation was the strongest correlate of the subjective wellbeing change during the first year of the pandemic. Poles who said that their financial situation got worse in comparison to the period before the pandemic (March 2020) were much more likely to see their overall wellbeing deteriorate. Over two thirds (70%) of Polish essential workers whose financial situation got much worse felt that their mental health declined, while this was the case only among one third of people whose financial situation improved a lot (31%).
Differences across sectors
When two changes are compared by sector, we can notice an interesting pattern.
- Polish essential workers in the health/care and education/childcare struggled more in terms of mental health, but their financial situation was more likely to improve or stay the same in comparison to workers in other sectors.
- Those working in production, sales and delivery of food/essential goods and utility services (eg. cleaning) more often reported doing worse financially than Poles working in other essential jobs.
- Meanwhile, Poles in essential worker jobs in other sectors (e.g. public/national security, local government, finance) were the ones who were the least impacted by the pandemic financially and in terms of mental health.