Assessing the UK Government’s Coronavirus Response

June 30, 2020
Coronavirus | Healthcare

On Monday last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a significant relaxation of the lockdown measures that have been imposed on the country for the past three months. The end of lockdown marks the opportunity to assess its damage, and the way in which the UK Government has handled the crisis will likely soon be scrutinised in a public inquiry.

 

A poll conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies on Thursday this past week found that 43% of the UK public think the Government has handled the coronavirus crisis well, while 48% do not

However, the UK Government has taken a multifaceted approach to tackling the pandemic and some aspects of their strategy have garnered more support than others.

One such aspect is the Government’s handling of the economy during the pandemic. A large majority (63%) believe that the UK Government did a good job at protecting jobs that were at risk from the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, with only 8% thinking it did a bad job. Results were not divided significantly along party lines, with only 7% of 2019 Conservative voters, 22% of 2019 Labour voters, and 16% of 2019 Liberal Democrat voters thinking the Government did badly.

Considering the economy more generally, 45% think that the Government did a good job at ensuring that the economy is in a position to bound back, while 21% think otherwise. There is more division along party lines. The majority (63%) of 2019 Conservative voters think the Government has done a good job and only a small minority (13%) think it did not. For 2019 Labour voters, the jury is out; approximately a third (34%) think the Government has done a good job and another third (32%) think it has done a bad job. But overall, the public think the UK Government has done a good job at protecting their jobs and setting the economy up to rebound from the coronavirus lull.

One of the earliest Government coronavirus crisis endeavours was to expand the NHS to prevent it from being overwhelmed by an influx of patients. Primarily, preparing the NHS for the crisis involved moving elderly patients from hospitals to care homes and building the Nightingale temporary hospital in London that would focus on coronavirus patients.

Two-thirds (67%) of the public think the Government did a good job at expanding the NHS to prevent it from being overwhelmed and only a small minority (13%) think it did a bad job. Critical care capacity held up well throughout the crisis as more than 33,000 beds were freed up to cope with the surge of new patients.

However, while the Government succeeded in increasing the number of beds available within NHS hospitals, there were complaints that personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies were insufficient, and the Government admitted in daily press briefings that it was difficult to obtain large quantities of PPE due to high demand globally. The public are split on whether the Government did a good job at providing NHS staff with essential protective equipment with 39% thinking it has done a good job and 38% thinking it has not.

Expanding the NHS’s capacity to cope with the crisis increased the strain on the social care sector. A strong plurality (46%) of the public think the Government did a bad job at supplying care staff with adequate equipment, compared to 31% who think it did a good job. The public think the Government did a worse job at providing protective equipment to the care sector than to the NHS.

Moreover, the majority (52%) of the public think the Government did a bad job at preventing outbreaks in care homes and only a quarter (24%) think it did a good job. By freeing up beds within the NHS, the Government concentrated elderly patients, who are believed to be more at risk from coronavirus, within care homes. As a result, the number of coronavirus cases and deaths in care homes was higher than expected. While the public think the Government performed well at expanding the NHS, it appears the Government may have then neglected something else, as the public thinks the Government did poorly at protecting and assisting care homes.

Early on in the pandemic, the UK Government was criticised for the relatively low number of coronavirus tests being carried out in comparison to other countries, such as Germany. Testing plays an essential role in monitoring the spread of the virus, especially when it is believed coronavirus can be spread by asymptomatic carriers. Health Secretary Matt Hancock set out to perform 100,000 tests a day by the end of April and appeared to have succeeded. However, our poll this week found that 44% of the public think the Government did a bad job at implementing a nationwide testing strategy and 29% think it did a good job. Nearly a quarter (23%) think it did a very bad job.

In mid-March, the UK Government began its daily coronavirus briefings featuring the Prime Minister or cabinet ministers, and top scientific and medical advisers. Prime Minister Boris Johnson also addressed the nation when the lockdown was imposed, detailing the new rules. The Government placed adverts on TV and online to communicate the lockdown rules and guidance.

The majority (62%) of the public think that the Government has done a good job at keeping the public up-to-date with information on how to protect themselves from coronavirus and nearly a quarter (23%) think it has done a very good job. Only a small minority (15%) think it has done a bad job. Similarly, a majority (53%) think the Government has done a good job at communicating the rules that are in place and 27% think it has done a bad job.

As the country begins to ease out of three months of lockdown restrictions, many are concerned that the speed at which measures are being relaxed could cause a new surge in cases and deaths. The public are split on the Government’s lockdown-easing strategy, as 40% think it is doing a good job at phasing the UK out of lockdown, and 31% thinking it is doing a bad job.   

When it comes to re-opening schools specifically, 31% of the public think the Government is doing a good job at determining the extent to which schools can re-open and 40% think it is doing a bad job. A poll conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies in mid-June found that only 36% of the public think that it was safe enough to partially re-open schools this month. The UK Government must ensure that pupils and staff are safe, but also recognise that the longer abnormal teaching continues, the larger the long-term impact on learning will be. So far, the public do not think the Government has done a good job at balancing the two.

The Government’s announcement of lockdown easing came with the caveat that lockdown restrictions could be imposed once again if there is a significant rise in deaths. As the coronavirus case numbers fall, it will become increasingly important to contain any local outbreaks that may emerge. The Government was hoping to develop a ‘Track & Trace’ scheme designed to monitor the spread of new infections through both traditional contract tracing methods and an app developed by NHSX. The app has now been scrapped. A strong plurality (46%) think the Government has done a bad job at implementing a contract tracing system and only a quarter (26%) think it has done a good job. As the lockdown is eased, contract tracing will prove vital in preventing future outbreaks, but the public does not think the Government has performed well in their attempts to implement such a system.

For more than three months, the British public have reduced their social contact and refrained from their usual activities, yet a strongly plurality (46%) think the UK Government has done a good job at bringing the country together in spirit and only 22% think it has done a bad job. Through such unprecedented times, the UK Government has succeeded in bringing the public together, albeit not physically.

And only 15% of the public think the Government has done a bad job at keeping them and their families safe during the coronavirus pandemic, with the majority (51%) thinking it has done a good job.

The public may think the Government has done a good job at expanding the NHS, but this has come at a cost to the care sector. Many also think the Government did a poor job dealing with some of the logistical challenges posed by the crisis, such as providing PPE, implementing a testing programme, and developing a contact tracing system. While the public recognises that the Government has done well at expanding the NHS, protecting jobs, and communicating guidance, this positive performance in these areas is not enough to redeem the Government’s poor performances in other aspects of their coronavirus strategy, given that respondents were 5% more likely to say the Government has not handled the crisis well.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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