From April 2021 to September 2021 the Center for Social & Health Innovation, in cooperation with the Arbeiterkammer Tyrol, Team Österreich Tafeln and unicum:mensch Tyrol, tried to give a voice to those people who went through difficult times during the COVID-19 pandemic. This included people who experienced severe financial cuts, were confronted with fears or experiences of social decline and loss of housing. Many of the interview participants lost their jobs due to the pandemic, experienced financial hardship, or lost income and education opportunities. In addition to 48 interviews with those affected the experiences and perspectives of 19 actors from counselling and social service institutions in the Tyrolean social landscape were included.
The measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic have primarily exacerbated already existing problems. Particularly noteworthy is the lack of affordable housing, which was a massive financial and psychological burden for almost all respondents and is not seldom accompanied by fears of eviction.
"Housing is infinitely expensive in Tyrol, ownership is almost an utopia."
"We couldn't pay for two months, thank God our landlady is nice, she waited."
The experienced financial decline, caused by transitions into part-time and short time employment or job loss, in conjunction with the shift of care and education work to private households, meant in many cases the dependence on institutional support services. Based on subjective experiences, the support services intended to cushion the effects of the pandemic were consistently rated as inadequate. There was a lack of specific information and contact points, the bureaucratic and temporal effort was assessed as very high, the calculation bases for financial support and the consideration of individual circumstances were too low, and finally, the shift of consultations and applications into the digital space was a hurdle. Something to be considered for future efforts in digitizing institutional support applications.
"You often get the feeling that it's a total labyrinth."
"I'm tired of consultations because you fill out the forms at AMS, but nobody tells you ANYTHING. The workers are always the screwed ones."
"I've worked it out with the hardship fund. It's so complicated that the few hundred euros are no longer worth it.”
Besides the increase in formal debts (e.g. bank loans) and informal liabilities (e.g. debts to family members), which do not necessarily lead to problematic debt careers, accessing one's own savings was often the only strategy to bridge income shortfalls. Such personal future loans avoided the accumulation of debts, but deprived participants of the financial basis for securing their future, which often led to a lack of perspectives and fears towards the future.
"You just save zero, on the contrary, you actually pay in a few hundred euros every month from your savings."
"You can't save anything to maybe buy your own home or finance anything."
The descent into precarious situations in combination with the experienced social isolation, the increased financial pressure and the loss of daily structures led in some cases to an aggravation of the psychological issues. Participants who refrained from inpatient treatment were often left to wait for months and hope that the situation would not worsen. This highlights the lack of capacity in care and counselling for people with mental health problems. There is a lack of therapy services in Tyrol that are financed by the health insurance system (e.g. model places), as private providers are difficult or impossible to afford.
"We had many more patients who were not our usual patients because they were in classic acute situations: violence crises at home, bankruptcy, job loss, divorces."
"It got worse every day. I then also had panic attacks and anxiety attacks, I couldn't do anything anymore."
People in precarious or fragile living situations before the COVID-19 pandemic were negatively affected by the border closure, as the possibility of obtaining food and other goods outside of Tyrol at a lower price was lost. Thus, making a living suddenly became more expensive and contributed to the aggravation of the financial situation of households without any loss of income.
"Everything has changed, everything is closed, the borders are closed, basically you are no longer free. I can't even go buy food across the border anymore [...] we did this before. It was always cheaper."
Lastly, the precariousness caused by COVID-19 put a strain on social networks and families. Friends and family members moved from previous homes due to financial constraints. Withdrawing from collective activities, as they were simply no longer affordable, was a common practice to avoid spending. In some cases, family planning was postponed and existing gender role models condensed, i.e. the additional burden of taking on the care and education work of childcare institutions and schools was mostly passed on to mothers. Especially after the second lockdown, the frequency of women experiencing domestic violence increased. Due to the aggravations caused by the pandemic, making a living (especially housing) was hardly possible and women remained in violent relationships.
"[...] a child, that is my wish. [...] I don't have a family plan. I cannot offer a good life to my children."
"Especially the women [...] we have a sharp increase in violence. The forms of violence showed up in the second lock down, with verbal abuse. Now, there's sexual violence and violence against children."
If you are interested, a seminar on 'Focus on Precarious Realities - Poverty Research between Crisis and Resilience' will be held on the above-mentioned as well as on further topics as part of the seminar series Armut aktuell.
Information and key dates:
Date: Friday, November 05 2021, 2- 6 PM
Venue: Haus der Begegnung, Rennweg 12, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria
Registration: firstname.lastname@example.org / 0664 5846661
Admission free: please bring proof of ‘3G’ (vaccinated, recovered or tested)
For any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact the project team:
Projektleiter Lukas Kerschbaumer, BA, MA
Center for Social & Health Innovation
+43 512 2070 – 7421
Sascha Gell, BA, MA
+43 512 2070 – 4723
Precarious Realities - Poverty Research between Crisis and Resilience. Photo: ©Pexels