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Too little help for the loneliest

During the Covid-19 pandemic, civil society assistance did not reach or did not sufficiently reach precisely those people who lacked a supportive social environment. This is shown in a study by Gesine Höltmann, Swen Hutter (both WZB) and Jule Specht (Humboldt University Berlin). In it, the researchers examined the role that the social capital of those in need of assistance played in determining what support they received. 

For their study, the researchers surveyed around 3,300 people in October 2020. The participants were asked to indicate from which groups they had received help since the beginning of the pandemic: from friends, family and acquaintances, from neighbors or from civil society initiatives. They were also asked whether they would have needed more help from others and about their social capital: the size of their supportive social network, the social trust they feel towards others, and their membership in civil society organizations.

The survey results show that people with higher social capital received more help in the pandemic overall. There was an overlap between the various sources of assistance: Those who were already supported by friends and family were also more likely to receive help from neighbors and civil society. Accordingly, the strength of one's personal network was critical to receiving help from outside that network during the lockdown. Less socially connected individuals, on the other hand, were also less likely to be reached by civil society.

This effect was reinforced by the fact that civil society assistance was most likely to be perceived as insufficient by respondents. Reasons for this could be: The constraints imposed by the pandemic made this assistance more difficult, and people relying on civil society support had greater needs.

Overall, the study shows that in the first phase of the pandemic, help came primarily from personal networks. Civil society actors could only supplement this support, but could not compensate for its lack among socially isolated people. 

The study is one of a large number of studies that show that the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic hit already disadvantaged people much harder.

26/4/2023 MSt