Since the 24th of July, face coverings have been mandatory in a number of enclosed public spaces, including supermarkets, shopping centres, transport hubs, banks, and post offices. Health Secretary Matt Hancock stated that the new rules were aimed at “giving people more confidence to shop safely and enhance protections for those who work in shops.” Those who refuse to comply with the new rules face a fine of up to £100.

Shortly prior to the implementation of the new law, an overwhelming majority (88%) of respondents claimed they would comply with the new rule.

Only 8% of the public said they would not comply. Perhaps, those who answered that they would not comply did so because of a legal exempt due to a physical or mental illness or disability. It may also be that they reject the face mask policy altogether. Whilst the vast majority of people will wear a mask, store employees may have to challenge up to one in twelve customers and refuse entry to those without a valid reason.

Although the Government has recommended face coverings in enclosed spaces since 11th May, research conducted by us last month, in July, indicated that mask usage continues to lag far behind several other major European countries.

Nevertheless, our research suggests that the Government’s change in policy will bring more reluctant customers into wearing a mask – the majority (64%) of those who rarely or never wore a mask prior to the new rule said a main reason for their refusal was simply because the Government had not yet made it mandatory.

As the Health Secretary emphasised that the new rule would give people more confidence to shop safely, our poll showed evidence that this claim would be backed up by customer habits.

Around a third of respondents said they would be more likely to visit a shop when the new rule on masks is implemented, although almost half (46%) said they were neither more nor less likely to do so.

The law would have the opposite effect for almost a fifth (19%) of the public, who say they are now less likely to visit shops.

The police force have been told that they “must help enforce” the rules by ministers. The Chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation summarised the law as “absolutely bonkers.” Police leaders are even more displeased with ministers’ handling as the sector was “unaware” of the impending announcement, and so were not consulted in the process and had little time to prepare. Interestingly, we found that 31% of the public say they would be more likely to visit a shop if they thought would be little or no enforcement of the wearing of face coverings.

28% say they would be less likely to visit a shop under such circumstances. A plurality (38%) said they were neither more nor less likely. It may be the case that a proportion of those more likely to visit a shop if face-coverings were not enforced may be those who do not wish to wear a face covering, while a section of those less likely to visit a shop will be individuals who would not feel comfortable shopping if mask usage was not universal.

Results suggest the public would in fact be supportive of police intervention. A large majority (70%) view the potential £100 fine for those who disregard the law as an acceptable punishment, which indicates that the public consider violation of the new rules a fairly serious offence.

Similarly, a majority (60%) believe that the police should be able to arrest for non-compliance, even though they currently can only do so in extreme cases, such as if a customer outright refuses to leave a store or becomes aggressive, and have promised to only use this power as a last resort. Public attitudes towards the police’s power to intervene were consistent across all demographic lines.

It is clear that the police have already been actively engaging with the public in order to enforce mask-wearing on public transport. Since masks were made compulsory on public transport on June 15th, more than a third (35%) of travellers have encountered people being stopped by the police for failure to wear a mask. Given that a similar proportion of travellers have witnessed people becoming physically aggressive over masks, it is understandable that so many support police intervention on the matter.

On the whole, responses to our polling indicates that the public will readily comply with the new rules on masks. Although a small minority will not wear masks, the public are also supportive of the police taking actions to enforce the new rules.

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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