Over the past 18 months, COVID-19 has had a profound impact on the lives of millions around the world. At Redfield & Wilton Strategies, we have tracked the British public’s response to diverse aspects of the coronavirus crisis, including lockdown restrictions, border closures, and the UK Government’s pandemic management. In our latest research, we investigate the more personal effects on Britons, and find that, remarkably, although experiences of the pandemic vary widely by age and gender, many people feel that their lives have not altogether worsened.
Looking back upon the course of the pandemic and its impact on Britons’ lives, it appears that recreation and psychological wellbeing have suffered the most negative disruption from COVID-19. A majority (58%) of the public says their lives have been negatively disrupted by the pandemic in terms of holiday plans being cancelled or postponed. 31% cite cancellation or postponement of concerts, sporting events, and similar, whilst over a quarter (28%) identify ‘mental health or stress problems.’ Furthermore, around one in ten (11%) people say they have lost a family member, and around one in five (18%) people say they have had funeral arrangements curtailed.
Significantly, the pandemic’s negative effects appear to have been spread disproportionately across the population. Twice as many women (12%) as men (6%) say they lost their employment status, and women are also doubly as likely (37%) as men (19%) to identify mental health and stress as a negative disruption to their lives caused by the pandemic. This finding is consistent with research from the Office for National Statistics showing a gender disparity in job losses and mental health impact. We also see a clear generational divide in these areas: whereas only 11% of those aged 65 and over identify mental health problems, this proportion is much higher among 18-to-24-year-olds (41%) and 25-to-34-year-olds (47%), perhaps indicative of their predominance in areas heavily impacted by the pandemic, such as education and insecure employment.
Yet, for some Britons, the pandemic has also brought with it unexpected benefits. When asked to select ways that the pandemic has positively disrupted their and their families’ lives, sizable portions of the public identify home improvements (30%) and increased savings (24%). Others express that they had a better work-life balance (17%), an enjoyable holiday at home (16%), or a renewed appreciation for life (16%). Significantly, however, a quarter (27%) do not identify with any of the provided responses, suggesting that the public is altogether more likely to identify negative personal impacts of the pandemic than positive ones.
One area of negative impact is financial strain. Although just 13% of respondents say their business or earnings have been badly affected, 30% say that their financial situation has worsened since the beginning of the pandemic, suggesting that the pandemic has been characterised by some financial stress. Nonetheless, around half (51%) say their financial situation is unchanged, and one in five (19%) say it has improved.
Interestingly, respondents who think the UK Government has handled the coronavirus crisis well (27%) are more likely than those who think it has not handled it well (14%) to say their own financial situation has improved, perhaps reflecting the significance of financial concerns in the judgement of government policy.
Furthermore, responses to this question of financial impact vary significantly according to age. A strong majority (70%) of those aged 65 and over say their financial situation has stayed the same, potentially a result of their relative independence from employment-based income. Pluralities from almost every age bracket record the same response, with the conspicuous exception being young adults: a plurality (40%) of 18-to-24-year-olds say their financial situation has worsened, perhaps reflective of their comparatively limited savings and overrepresentation in sectors of significant job loss, such as retail and hospitality.
In line with this general sense of stability in personal finance, when asked to reflect upon the overall pandemic, a plurality (45%) of respondents say their lives have on the whole stayed the same. Those who do feel their lives have changed are more likely to say they have worsened (33%) than improved (22%). Nevertheless, this equates to a significant 67% of respondents who feel their lives have not worsened since the pandemic began.
Fascinatingly, despite their dominance in many areas of negative impact, a plurality (41%) of 18-to-24-year-olds say their lives have improved compared to before the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, the plurality of those aged 65 and over (56%) say their lives have stayed the same, but 38%—the highest proportion of any age bracket—say their lives have worsened.
Finally, when it comes to their self-reflection on living through the pandemic, most Britons feel confident in their own response to the situation. The overwhelmingly majority (84%) thinks they have personally responded well to the coronavirus crisis. Only 11% think they have not responded well, and 4% don’t know.
Although respondents of all ages are in agreement on this issue, confidence in personal responses does appear to vary somewhat by respondents’ age. A remarkable 91% of 55-to-64-year-olds and those aged 65 and over say they have personally responded well to the crisis. Meanwhile, confidence levels are lowest among 25-to-34-year-olds, where 76% feel they have responded well, and 19% feel they have not responded well to the pandemic.
Nevertheless, across all age groups, there has been an increase in confidence in personal responses since our last polling in March, when 72% said they had personally responded well to the pandemic, 12% they hadn’t, and 12% were unsure. This slight shift, where some of the public has gone from uncertainty to feeling they have personally responded well, is perhaps reflective of the end being in sight and respondents now being more comfortable on reflecting how they have personally responded to the pandemic.
Despite the challenges of living through a pandemic, the British public overall appears remarkably stoic when it comes to the overall impact of the coronavirus crisis on their personal lives—though a significant third feel their lives have worsened since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis. There is certainly some evidence of financial strain, but for many, this strain has been minimal; in any case, a majority feels that their financial situation has improved or stayed the same since the beginning of the pandemic. The crisis has had some positive effects—including providing the opportunity for home improvement and an increase in personal savings—and a growing number of people feel confident in having personally responded well to the crisis.