A study on the Roma population brings to light the impact of COVID-19 on social inclusion

More than half of households surveyed have seen income reductions, and eight in ten family units had difficulty accessing basic food. Part of the team in charge of the survey

In order to analyse the consequences of COVID-19 on the Roma population, the University of Alicante (UA) has directed a new study to determine the impact of the pandemic, in relation to health, education, employment or income, on families, using the services of Roma associations across Spain.

The results, according to Daniel La Parra, director of the study and holder of a PhD in Sociology from the University of Alicante, reflect that “COVID-19 has brought to light pre-existing inequalities in our country, also in the case of the Roma community.”

The team, made up of researchers from the public universities of Alicante and Navarre, the Carlos III Health Institute and Roma associations UNGA (Asturias), FAGA (Valencia Region), Red Artemisa (Madrid), Gaz Kalo (Navarre), Nevipen (Biscay) and the Equi-Sastipen-Rroma national network, conducted a telephone survey, from 12 April to 10 May 2020, on 592 households in phase 0 of the lockdown.

To analyse the situation in a variety of contexts and regions with different political, social and economic realities, the researchers selected Roma families living in Asturias, the Valencia Region, Madrid, Murcia, Navarre and Biscay. The study results have already been published on the website of the Spanish Ministry of Health.



Respondents had worse perceptions of their own health due to the pandemic. The percentage of people who thought their health was “poor” or “very poor” before the pandemic was 2.6%, which rose to 17% during lockdown. The percentage of those who considered their health to be “fair” doubled (from 18.8% to 34.8%). Moreover, eight out of ten respondents stated that some of their household members had had health problems other than COVID-19 during lockdown. Most of them (82%) reported “anxiety or depression” problems, which shows the high emotional impact of this situation on these households.

As for education, the report notes that half of all households with minors reported difficulties related to studying from home. Several gaps are mentioned. First, the digital gap, as 26% of those households reported that they had no IT equipment available. Second, the knowledge transfer gap: 18% of all households stated that the minors could not understand the contents or tasks delivered or set by teachers, and 14% of households said that none of their members could help those studying understand the tasks or contents. The third gap is related to schools, with 17% of households reporting that teachers or school centres provided no instructions and 15% saying they had no access to the textbooks and materials required. “The digital gap detected, as well as those regarding schools or knowledge transfer, could contribute to worsening the educational processes of students who, according to available studies, were already facing a serious situation of educational inequality,” Javier Arza, a researcher at the Public University of Navarre and coordinator of the study, explains.

Regarding employment, UA researcher Daniel La Parra points out, “one in two respondents reported that the work situation of some of their household members had worsened in some way during lockdown: workers who had lost their jobs, could not work or were furloughed.” A large majority of respondents, 90%, indicated that none of their household members had been able to work from home. “This, indeed, was a factor with a negative impact on employment in these households,” he highlights.

Furthermore, over half of these households saw significant income reductions. The percentage of households reporting only one income earner rose by 20 points (from 41.4% to 61.2%), whereas households with no income at all increased by 7 points (from 2.6% to 9.5%). The researchers in charge of the study say that “one of the most dramatic effects of this income reduction is how difficulties arise in accessing basic food, affecting (to a greater or lesser extent) eight in ten households.”

In addition to the problems mentioned above, the feeling of being discriminated against is common among these households. “56% of those surveyed reported that discrimination against the Roma population had increased since the declaration of the state of emergency, and 20% stated that they or some of their household members had been directly discriminated against,” Javier Arza points out.


Protective factors

Fortunately, Arza explains, “the survey results also show that protective factors exist, such as cohesion within the enlarged family, which remains strong and limits the impact of the pandemic.” “The mutualism of the Roma community helped them cope better with the needs, losses and damage caused by this crisis. As a complement to traditional mutualism, the role of associations was crucial, supporting many Roma families during lockdown,” he says.

All in all, according to the experts, “the impact of the pandemic on more vulnerable sectors of our society must make us aware of the insufficient investment in social housing, in inclusive education, in decent and safe employment, in minimum guaranteed income schemes, in community healthcare or in the fight against discrimination, among other needs. For this reason, policies in the post-pandemic era will have to incorporate a multidimensional perspective and a cross-sectoral, equality-oriented intervention approach.” “Besides, it will be essential to ensure real participation of the population, in this case of the Roma population and its civil society, in the design, development and evaluation of all policies,” they conclude.

The full report about the 2020 survey on the impact of COVID-19 on the Roma population is available on the website of the Spanish Ministry of Health through this link. After analysing the results of the University of Alicante-led survey, the National Council of the Roma People has approved a series of intervention proposals and recommendations.