COVID-19 and LGBTQ+ Communities
LGBT+ health inequalities during the COVID-19 pandemic
This page was last updated on: 22/05/2020
Information about the COVID-19 pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought considerable challenges to the LGBT+ voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector, with organisations experiencing significant reductions in income whilst managing increased need and demand for their services from vulnerable LGBTQ+ individuals. The potential financial impact on the sector can’t be understated. In a survey by Consortium, 47% of the 79 organisations who responded reported an immediate impact on their financial situation and 38% reported a reduction in donations, with many forecasting a loss of planned income due to the cancellation of fundraising events. The impact has been immediate and may well have long term consequences for the sector: 20% of respondents to Consortium’s survey reported concern that they will have to close as a result of the financial impact that the pandemic will have on their organisations. The £750m of government support to the charity sector is welcome, but it is unclear if any of these funds will be available to LGBT+ organisations.
LGBTQ+ individuals already experience a wide range of health inequalities; including poorer experience of healthcare services, poorer access and worse clinical outcomes. Whichever survey or research evidence you choose to look at, LGBTQ+ individuals fare worse than their heterosexual, cis-gendered peers. In particular, they are more likely to experience worse mental health and sexual health, are more socially isolated and at risk of homelessness and often report avoiding healthcare settings for fear of discrimination or negative reactions. In addition, trans people already face unacceptably long waits for Gender Identity Services. All of these existing problems will only be worsened by the impact COVID-19 is having on the delivery of healthcare services and the effect of lockdown and social distancing rules.
We are already seeing the considerable impact COVID-19 is having on LGBTQ+ communities. The LGBT Health Team at NHS England undertook a survey of LGBT sector organisations in the first couple of weeks of the lockdown to ask about the challenges their service users were facing and what new services they were developing to support them. A wide raised of issues and concerns were raised including: increased anxiety, depression and distress; isolation, especially amongst older LGBTQ+ people living alone; hostile home environments, which is a particular issue for young people living in households which are LGBT-phobic; risk of domestic abuse, family breakdown and homelessness; financial difficulties through loss of earnings; concerns about gender identity service waiting times and cancellation of surgery or treatments; concerns about sexual health, substance misuse; the lack of information and support for young people and LGBTQ+ individuals with other medical conditions e.g. cancer, and the impact on LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers.
A number of LGBT+ organisations have also described the range and scale of the problems. Interim analysis of an online survey by the LGBT Foundation found that 24% of respondents said there was medication they are unable to access or that they were worried they might not be able to access and 16% had been unable to access healthcare for non-COVID related issues. 10% of respondents said they do not feel safe where they are currently staying and 1 in 5 were concerned that the situation is going to lead to substance or alcohol misuse or trigger a relapse. The survey remains open and we would encourage you to complete it as appropriate and share the link (which can be found here) with your service users.
The Albert Kennedy Trust, which works with LGBTQ+ young people at risk of homelessness, has seen a 30% increase in referrals from young people living in hostile and abusive environments or finding themselves homeless since the COVID outbreak began – with a significant increase in self-referrals from younger people aged 16 and 17. These already very vulnerable young people are reporting worsening mental health and wellbeing, increased abuse at home, risk taking sexual behaviours and financial difficulties and job losses.
Opening Doors London, who provide information and support for older LGBT+ individuals, had more referrals in the first few weeks of the crisis than they had had all year with people reporting worsening social isolation and loneliness, food poverty and feeling anxious, depressed and frightened.
Within this context of very real and difficult challenges for LGBTQ+ individuals, the LGBT+ VCSE has demonstrated its strength in being creative and evolving to adapt their services to support those in need. Organisations across the country are doing amazing work to provide support, advice and information. Whilst the lockdown continues and face-to-face support is not an option, charities are increasing their web-based, virtual and remote support. We have collated information about organisations that are providing services relevant to, or specifically for, LGBT people. If we’ve missed your organisation from this, apologies. Please send us brief details of what services you offer so that we can update the site.
It is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is worsening already significant health inequalities faced by LGBTQ+ individuals and it is essential that we continue to work to address them; not only now but in the coming weeks and months as we will be dealing with the fallout from this for months or years to come.
It even more important than usual that we all focus on supporting LGBTQ+ individuals and there is plenty of information, advice and support out there to help us get through these difficult times. The NHS is not closed to non-COVID care. Although routine hospital work is still reduced – it is starting to increase. The NHS has always been open for urgent and emergency cases and GPs are still open for business. It just may be that initial assessments or appointments are virtual (on the phone or by video chat) rather than face-to-face and it may take longer to get through than normal. It is also still possible to get advice online from NHS choices or by calling the 111 helpline.
These frequently asked questions (FAQs) have been developed to give you the information and advice you need to signpost the wide range of support that is available.
To get through this we must continue to work together. Stay well and take care of yourselves and each other.