The petrol industry is the latest to be impacted by an estimated shortage of more than 100,000 lorry drivers, causing scenes of long lines of cars waiting to fuel up and signs announcing that fuel stations had run out of supply. The latest research by Redfield & Wilton Strategies looks at how Britons are responding to the fuel shortage, including who and what they are blaming it on.
Firstly, amidst reports that widespread ‘panic-buying’ has fuelled the crisis, few Britons indicate that news of the shortage prompted them to buy petrol in the past week. Of the 62% of car owners who went to a petrol station to buy fuel in the last week, the vast majority (73%) say they did so due to a low amount of fuel in their tank. A not insignificant 12% of those who bought fuel in the last week say they did so in response to the fuel shortage news. However, this figure increases to 23% for respondents living in London who fuelled up.
Furthermore, a very minimal proportion (9%) of Britons say they received communications via email, telephone, or text from petrol retailers regarding the fuel shortage and their response to it. This lack of communication to assure Britons that the situation was under control may have contributed to the sense of uncertainty and panic, and may be one lesson companies can learn from should such a crisis take place again. Indeed, 71% of those who did receive a communication said it put their mind at ease and reassured them that petrol retailers had control of the situation, suggesting that such outreach on a wider scale may have averted some of the panic-buying witnessed.
In terms of the broader impact the fuel shortage has had, 79% of Britons say the current fuel shortage has not impacted any work or travel plans that they had made previously—though a notable 21% say the shortage has impacted their work or travel plans.
The impact appears to have reached younger respondents the most, with 40% of 18-to-24-year-olds and 37% of 25-to-34-year-olds saying their work or travel plans have been affected, compared to just 8% of those aged 65 and above. Regionally, London (37%) and the South East (28%) see the greatest proportions of respondents saying the current fuel shortage has impacted their work or travel plans.
Looking at how the British public views the shortages inflicting the nation, our research finds a majority (60%) of respondents believe the current shortage of lorry drivers was foreseeable, including a majority of 2019 Labour voters (69%) and 2019 Conservative voters (57%). Only 17% overall think the lorry driver shortage was not foreseeable, and 23% are unsure.
Yet, a smaller proportion (though still a plurality) of 48% believe the current shortage of fuel was foreseeable, compared to a third (33%) who think it was not foreseeable. On this matter, there is much greater disagreement between voters of the two major parties: 61% of Labour voters think the fuel shortage was foreseeable, in contrast to 36% of Conservative voters.
This discrepancy in responses based on Britons’ 2019 General Election vote becomes a pattern on questions relating to where responsibility rests for the lorry driver and fuel shortages.
Whereas a plurality (35%) of respondents believe the UK’s departure from the European Union is the main cause of the current shortage of lorry drivers, this figure increases to 49% among Liberal Democrat voters, 51% among Labour voters, and 60% among Scottish National Party voters. By comparison, 20% of Conservative voters identify Brexit as the main cause. Rather, respondents who voted Conservative in 2019 are the group most likely to believe low wages and difficult working conditions (30%) is the main cause of the shortage, in addition to a further 20% who cite the coronavirus pandemic.
Overall, 25% of Britons think the main cause is the low wages and difficult working conditions for lorry drivers, 14% think it is the Government’s training and recruitment policies for lorry drivers, and 12% think it is the strains caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
When it comes to the UK Government’s particular responsibility for the shortages, over half (55%) of the British public agrees that the Government is the entity most to blame for the current shortages of lorry drivers and fuel. 23% disagree and 19% neither agree nor disagree that the Government is most at blame.
Once again, voters of the opposition Labour Party (76%) are far likelier than voters of the Conservative Party (35%) to agree that the UK Government is the entity most to blame for the shortages. Meanwhile, a majority of all age groups also agree that the Government is most responsible, with the exception of those aged 65 and above, 41% of whom agree and 40% of whom disagree with the charge.
Moving beyond what Britons believe caused the shortage to how they feel the Government has responded to it, we find 57% of respondents disapprove of the Government’s response to the fuel shortage. Disapproval is the majority position across age groups, and is especially heightened among 55-to-64-year-olds (63%). By contrast, 17% of Britons approve of the Government’s response to the fuel shortage, while 22% neither approve nor disapprove.
Notably, a plurality (41%) of 2019 Conservative voters disapprove of the Government’s response to the current fuel shortage, pointing to significant dissatisfaction with the Conservative Government’s reaction among its own voter base. Nevertheless, disapproval is again much more prominent among Labour voters (71%), as well as Liberal Democrat (75%) and Scottish National Party (75%) voters.
While petrol stations’ fuel supplies continue to be below normal levels, the Petrol Retailers Association has said there are “early signs” that pressure is easing and the Prime Minister has said the situation is “stabilising.” However, it is yet unclear if the public’s mostly negative views regarding the Government’s response will ease alongside the fuel shortage itself.