One year ago, in July 2020, we at Redfield & Wilton Strategies asked Britons to predict whether various areas of concern in the UK would improve or worsen in the subsequent 12 months. Since that time, the UK has experienced two more waves of coronavirus, as well as one of the world’s fastest vaccination rollouts, bringing us to the current moment in which all domestic restrictions were lifted in England this week, with the devolved nations soon to follow. So much has changed in the past year, leading us to ask: have Britons’ expectations for the country’s future also changed?
In the economic realm, a plurality of the British public still expects that unemployment (42%) and job opportunities for young people (39%) will worsen in the next 12 months, suggesting that respondents’ views of the UK’s future remain bleak in these respects. That being said, the proportions of respondents who expect unemployment and job opportunities for young people to worsen have decreased from their July 2020 levels of 64% and 62% respectively. In fact, there have even been significant decreases since our more recent polling in March 2021, when 54% of respondents thought unemployment would worsen and 51% thought job opportunities for young people would worsen in the next 12 months.
Instead, there has been an increase in the past year in Britons who anticipate improvements in the job market, with the proportions of those who expect improved unemployment levels growing from 9% to 24% and those who expect improved job opportunities for young people rising from 11% to 26%. Therefore, while the overall picture is not one of optimism, there nevertheless appears to have been a decrease in pessimism since this time last year.
Pessimism about the future of the UK’s levels of homelessness has also decreased since last July, when half (51%) of respondents expected homelessness levels would worsen in the next 12 months. Now, 43% expect homelessness will worsen—still representing the plurality position among Britons, followed by 37% who think levels of homelessness in the UK will stay the same over the next 12 months. Amidst fewer predictions of worsened levels of homelessness, however, there has not been a parallel increase in expectations for improved levels of homelessness: just 8% expect homelessness levels to improve in the next 12 months, similar to the 7% who thought the same last July.
In both July 2020 and July 2021, our research shows that young respondents are the least likely to expect these situations to worsen in the next 12 months. In fact, 18-to-24-year-olds are the only age group in our latest poll to see a plurality expect unemployment (35%) and job opportunities for young people (34%) to stay the same, rather than worsen, pointing to a greater sense of hope for the future among the young. 2019 Conservative voters also tend to have more positive predictions than the average respondent, with a plurality expecting unemployment (36%) and job opportunities for young people (40%) to improve, which may relate to a greater trust in the Conservative-run Government to bring about such improvements.
One area in which expectations for the next 12 months have not changed is income inequality: 53% of Britons expect the gap between the rich and the poor to worsen in the next 12 months, 34% expect it will stay the same, and just 6% think it will improve—the exact results we found in July 2020. It accordingly seems that the British public’s views on income inequality have not meaningfully changed, remaining substantially negative. 2019 Labour voters are particularly pessimistic in this respect, with two-thirds (65%) saying they think the gap between the rich and the poor will worsen in the next 12 months, whereas almost half (48%) of 2019 Conservative voters expect it will stay the same.
Similarly, expectations for future crime levels have also remained fairly consistent: 48% of the British public expect levels of crime to worsen in the next 12 months, a marginal one-point increase since July 2020. A plurality or majority of all age groups express this view in our latest poll, though 18-to-24-year-olds are the least likely (40%) to say levels of crime will worsen in the coming year. Alternatively, just 8% anticipate crime levels to improve—the same result we found last July—and 33% think they will stay the same. As with the gap between the rich and the poor, respondents seem to have little faith that levels of crime will improve in the coming year.
The British public’s forecast for education in the UK also has not changed significantly, though it is somewhat less negative: 48% expect the education system to stay the same in the next 12 months and 32% expect it to worsen, the latter proportion down slightly from 36% in July 2020. Few Britons predicted improvements in the education system, both in the latest poll and last July: only 12% and 10% respectively. Once again, 18-to-24-year-olds demonstrate the most optimism, with 52% expecting the education system to stay the same, 20% expecting it to improve, and 20% expecting it to worsen.
The only area in which a notably greater proportion of respondents predict a worsening of conditions now than in July 2020 is in the quality of the NHS, increasing from 19% to 28% in our latest poll. Still, the plurality (46%) of Britons think the quality of the NHS will stay the same in the next 12 months, and 20% think it will improve—including a third (32%) of 18-to-24-year-olds. Meanwhile, 2019 Labour voters are particularly pessimistic about the future of the healthcare system, with 42% expecting the quality of the NHS to worsen in the next 12 months, likely reflecting a broader disapproval of the Conservative Government’s healthcare policies.
Though the world has changed remarkably in the past 12 months, Britons’ expectations for the next 12 months have not changed to the same extent. The only significant differences between current expectations and expectations Britons held in July 2020 are the over twenty-point decreases in proportions who think unemployment and job opportunities for young people will worsen in the next 12 months. Nevertheless, both remain the plurality position. Indeed, a majority or plurality of the British public expect unemployment, job opportunities for young people, levels of homelessness, levels of crime, and the gap between the rich and the poor to worsen in the coming year. Optimism for future improvements in the social and economic conditions on which we polled remains limited, and with coronavirus cases beginning to rise once again, a potential fourth wave of the pandemic may indeed jeopardise any advancement in these areas.