Can the Government Bring People Back to Work

May 8, 2020
Coronavirus

The ongoing debate about whether to end or extend the lockdown, we have repeatedly argued, is a moot one. It is the public rather than the Government that will decide when the lockdown effectively ends; people will individually make the decision for themselves as to whether it is safe for them to begin returning to their ‘normal’ lives.  The role of the Government is to help make it safe through measures such as requiring the public to wear masks, contact tracing, maintaining effective border control, thoroughly cleaning public transportation, and so forth. Yet, this conclusion raises another interesting question: if the Government, fearing for ‘the economy,’ decides to end the lockdown, can it bring people back to work?

The answer appears to be no. In a poll we at Redfield & Wilton Strategies conducted on Wednesday, respondents overwhelmingly supported the right for key workers, fearing for their safety, to refuse to return to work.

A plurality of respondents also said they would support people going on strike if they believed returning to work was unsafe. Noticeably, a majority of those among the working-age and especially Labour voters supported the idea, while the 55+ population and Conservatives did not.

In terms of returning to school, a strong majority did not support the idea of truancy fines for those who refused to send their children back to school.

Moreover, respondents supported the notion of continuing to support people who do not feel safe returning to work even after the lockdown has ended.

Such measures would be not only difficult to sustain financially but would also likely slow any potential economic recovery. They would therefore be less likely to continue when the Government is hoping to resume a more normal economic life. Nevertheless, this level of support broadly suggests that the public is more concerned about their health and safety than their economic situation.

Indeed, when asked directly where their concerns lay, nearly two-third of respondents said they were worried about the lockdown measures ending too quickly.

Altogether, a majority of respondents were supportive of incentives to encourage them to return to work.

However, producing incentives is different than coercion, and making the public and the workplace safe for work could also reasonably be considered an incentive. Even more than a month into the lockdown (or maybe due to more than a month of lockdown), we see strong resistance to the easing of measures and to any sort of compulsion towards a resumption of normal working life.

This research was also published in the Daily Mail.

Data tables for this research can be found here. 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.