Launched today, the research, carried out by the University of Bath, demonstrates the positive impact of wellbeing interventions, including removing barriers to digital poverty
Researchers from the University of Bath conducted qualitative research commissioned by SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity. The research found that beneficiaries’ interactions with SSAFA volunteers and employees during the COVID-19 pandemic were very positive with services received being highly valued and meeting beneficiaries’ needs.
While SSAFA continued to operate throughout the pandemic, like so many charities across the country, service delivery had to adapt to the government restrictions, with many services changing from face to face to online delivery. This highlighted the need for SSAFA to develop a deeper understanding of how beneficiaries and volunteers to engage with digital technology.
The 57 participants which included SSAFA beneficiaries, volunteers and employees were all based in England and had been part of the ‘Keep Calm, Get Connected and Carry On project’. The research was part of a grant funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS). The sample was not intended to be seen as representative of all SSAFA beneficiaries but themes and experiences mirrored feedback from the SSAFA network during the pandemic.
The COVID pandemic has shone a spotlight on the effects Social Isolation and Loneliness can both seriously impact an individual’s physical and mental wellbeing. Beneficiaries interviewed said that they had had a unique and heightened experience of loneliness and social isolation during COVID-19 due to their Armed Forces background and training with pre-existing loneliness, social isolation and mental health difficulties being perpetuated and amplified throughout the pandemic.
The Qualitative research was undertaken by Dr Josie Millar, Dr Erin Waites, Ms Sophie-Anne Purnell, Ms Lydia Munns, Mr Michael Colman and Professor Julie Barnett, Department of Psychology at the University of Bath.
Lieutenant-General Sir Andrew Gregory, KBE, CB, DL said: “The Covid-19 pandemic that struck in 2020 and the consequent restrictions placed on society heightened trends and exacerbated symptoms amongst SSAFA’s beneficiaries.  In 2018, our research report “The Nation’s Duty” found that 64% of the 1,100 SSAFA beneficiaries then surveyed reported feeling lonely or isolated since leaving the Armed Forces. Knowing that fact, the impact of a series of sustained national lockdowns on our beneficiaries, and indeed on the work and wellbeing of SSAFA’s 4,700 volunteers, was of significant concern to us as a charity and service provider.
“This insightful qualitative study, undertaken by a research team from the University of Bath provides further examples of the challenges being faced. Having interviewed a small sample – 26 of the 79,540 beneficiaries that we assisted in 2020, it is not intended to be seen as representative of all SSAFA beneficiaries. However, the themes and experiences gives a starting point for further exploration, evaluation and discussion. 
“We welcome the recognition and encouragement to continue our existing service delivery practices and strategies. We want to build on the success of our existing partnerships with other organisations to ensure we continue to provide tailored, personalised support to those in the Armed Forces community who need us the most.”
Dr Josie Millar from the University of Bath said: “This study provides important insights about the challenges experienced by SSAFA beneficiaries during the COVID-19 Lockdown. It provides insights into the valuable services SSAFA provide, and insights regarding how these important and valuable services might be further enhanced”
In 2020 SSAFA supported 79,540 individuals with our charitable services with 54% of our beneficiaries were aged under 60.
Due to stay at home messaging and suspension of some of the traditional referral pathways for our beneficiaries (eg GP surgeries, local authorities, personal welfare services provided by our 130+ service delivery partners) there was a reduction in demands for some our services. But we also experienced a dramatic rise in demand for particular support:
  • our Mentoring service supported 94% more individuals transitioning out of the Armed Forces compared to 2019.
  • Our bereavement support groups, which switched to virtual meetings only, saw a 34% increase in attendance.
  • FANDF, our forum for Forces Families with Additional Needs and Disabilities, engaged with 21% more families than in 2019.
  • Forcesline, our free, confidential helpline, saw a significant increase in the number of contacts (calls, email and online enquiries) related to loneliness and isolation.
  • Stepping Stone home, our provision for women and children from Forces families, supported 104% more people compared to 2019.