THE economic crisis triggered by coronavirus has hit every part of our country. But figures published by the Office for National Statistics this week have revealed which regions have been most affected by the downturn.

As many as 74% of Scots in accommodation and food service jobs were furloughed, with the level for the construction sector at 72%. When broken down into Westminster constituency areas, Glasgow East had Scotland’s highest furlough claim rate of 36%. That’s equivalent to 15,100 people.

Though its claim rate was slightly lower at 35%, Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey had the largest number of employees on the furlough scheme at 17,900. Kirsteen Paterson examines what that means for those communities now and in the weeks and months to come as the country’s unemployment rate rises.


FIONA is waiting to find out if she’s going to be made redundant. She asked the Sunday National not to use her full name because she’s worried about how that would go down with her employer.

The 38-year-old is amongst those now venturing out to the local businesses now re-opening as lockdown eases, but she’s not able to relax. “I think I’ll be okay,” she says, “But I’ve just got to wait to find out.

“My site never closed during coronavirus, but a lot of people were furloughed. I had to keep going in, which I hated because I felt like I was having to put my health at risk and the bosses didn’t care, and now they’re telling some of the team their jobs won’t be there any more, and we don’t even know who that is yet. It’s brutal.”

Although service sector worker Fiona lives in the city’s east end, she works in its centre. Around 88,300 jobs in the Glasgow city region area have been furloughed, and that 32% rate is even more acute in this area.

Fiona’s commute has been easy, but if she gets kept on, she’s been told she may have to work in another centre outwith the area, which is something she dreads. “They’ll not pay me for my travel time,” she says, “But it’s not like I’ll be in a position to say no. I’ll just have to keep paying the bills.”

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Paying the bills has been hard for many households in Glasgow East for a long time. Like many other parts of the country, there are pockets of deep, entrenched poverty. Unlike many nearby areas, it scores highly on the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, which ranks factors including crime, unemployment, pupil attainment rates and how long people have to travel to get to a GP.

There’s long been a feeling that the area has been left behind in the city’s renaissance, which has seen once-overlooked districts like Finnieston in the neighbouring Glasgow Central constituency become gentrified, but there’s also an abiding sense of community and pride.

One local businessman, who did not want to be named, grew up in hardship and has succeeded in building a successful small enterprise providing supplies to the hospitality sector. He’s managed to hold on throughout the pandemic by putting his small team on furlough and using his reserves, but his customer base has shrunk. “There are one or two bigger clients that I relied on before, and now they’ve become even more important,” he says, “If one of those was to go, we’d be in real trouble. The job is now about thinking up new ways of bringing in business because without customers, we don’t exist.

“We’ve been through things like this before,” he says, “like the banking crisis, but this feels different.

“What I don’t want to do is necessarily come out and say that because we want customers to have confidence that we can deliver. We can, and we need them to believe in us, but this period has been very hard.

“I’ve watched Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak talking about how much they’re doing for people, but they won’t give the Scottish Government the powers or the funding Nicola Sturgeon’s saying they need to give more support to people here. We didn’t vote for them, we voted for her. It makes you angry.”

That issue of confidence is also key at the area’s Forge shopping centre, near Celtic Park. Retailers there include big names like Asda and Quiz, as well as Cash Generator and Ramsdens, where people can sell as well as buy.

Marketing manager Jade Wilkie says the mall is essential to the community. “Most of our customers come from within a three-mile radius – they live down the street,” she says. “We are a community centre and we see a lot of walk-in trade.”

Around 20% of the centre’s team is still on furlough, but those who are working have set up one-way systems and rows of hand sanitiser dispensers for shoppers. “We’ve put a lot of time and effort into making the centre safe,” Wilkie says. “Some people are still quite worried out there.”

If those worries include finances, Wilkie says that’s not showing at the till points. “We are on par or up against last year”, she says. “It was raining on Monday, but there was a rush of people in and as the week’s gone on, people have been more confident to shop.

“Our customers are out and they are shopping. Sales are good.”


THE atmosphere in Aviemore right now, one local told the Sunday National, is “buzzing”.

The Highland town is emerging from the long lockdown one holiday booking at a time. Visitors are arriving again to fill hotel rooms and campsite, to shop at recently shuttered gift shops and to eat at cafes and restaurants.

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The area’s popularity with tourists has long been its fortune, so when Covid-19 hit it really cost. Alasdair Christie, manager of Inverness Badenoch and Strathspey Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), says that though recovery is now beginning, that returning bustle isn’t an instant fix. “It’s been very stressful,” he says.

“We have had welfare reform, Universal Credit, casino banking – this has been by far the worst that many of our advisors have been through.

“They’ve been working longer hours due to demand. The number of enquiries has gone through the roof. Employment used to be our fourth most common query, now it’s the first. People have been asking ‘what does furlough mean, can I get benefits when I’m on furlough, I was on furlough but now I’m being made redundant, what help can I get?’.

“We’re now starting to see people going into debt because they’ve only had 80% of their salaries. We’ve heard some really heartbreaking stories from clients who have never been in hardship before in their lives and are for the first time saying ‘I can’t afford the rent, I can’t afford the mortgage, I’ve got credit managers chasing me’.

“This is changing their lives and it will take them years to recover.

“The green shoots of recovery are coming through, but that’s not helping people who have had reduced income for four months. It’s giving them hope for the future but that’s not helping them cope with the issues they’ve got right now.”

As well as providing direct advice to individuals through the CAB, Christie, the LibDem deputy leader of Highland Council, is trying to figure out what his administration can do to create overarching change.

“We’re thinking about what lobbying we can do, what we can do locally,” he says. “We’ve formed a task force. We have to get the economy going again. The atmosphere Christie feels is one of “concern, hope, optimism all mingled together”.

But for some, optimism is in short supply. Voluntary organisation Home Start works with families across the region struggling with mental and physical health problems, bereavement, isolation and more, including poverty. It’s credited with providing what one Aviemore local described as “tremendous” support during the pandemic.

Former MP Paul Monaghan, who now leads the service, is proud of what his team has achieved, but says the need those volunteers have tried to meet shows no signs of going away. “High streets seem to be a bit busier,” he says.

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“But the people who are really struggling are at home worrying about their future and how they are going to make ends meet today, tomorrow, next week and the month after.”

“It does seem very unlikely that everyone who is currently furloughed will be returning to work. Some very big businesses are closing, some smaller businesses will be closing too. In the next six months to a year, we’re anticipating that the situation for vulnerable families will become worse.’’

For Drew Hendry MP, the picture for young people is the “biggest worry”.

“Because we are coming to the end of furlough, many employers are now deciding to make redundancies. That’s disproportionately affecting young people, because they’ve a shorter length of service and are cheaper to make redundant.

“For decades we’ve been turning around the drain that we had, the demographic imbalance, in the Highlands. Young people were starting to grow in number again.

“The pressures that are put on by this crisis and the end of the Brexit transition period are now going to hamper that.”