Throughout the past eight months of the pandemic, we have polled the British public about whether they think various specific areas of concern will improve or worsen over the course of the following 12 months. Here, we examine the responses to these questions at four key points in the pandemic’s timeline in the UK: July 2020, after the end of the first lockdown; September 2020, at the start of the second wave; January 2021, after vaccinations began; and now in March 2021, when there is a clear path towards the end of restrictions.
In our latest poll (March 2021), optimism for the following 12 months is the highest it has been since we first polled these specific questions in July: across every area of concern, higher proportions of respondents in March 2021 than in July 2020, September 2020, and January 2021 anticipate improvements in the next 12 months. That being said, there remain significant concerns that many issues will worsen, particularly in the economic realm.
Perceptions of the UK’s job market prospects, for instance, remain bleak: majorities of respondents currently think unemployment (54%) and job opportunities for young people (51%) will worsen in the next 12 months.
55-to-64-year-olds are much more likely to believe unemployment will worsen, at 70%. Conversely, 18-to-24-year-olds are the most optimistic about the job market, as 40% expect improvements in unemployment and 35% expect improvements in job opportunities for young people.
While less than a quarter (23%) of British respondents believe unemployment in the UK and job opportunities for young people will improve, this proportion is a substantial increase since January, when 13% anticipated improvements in these two areas. Only 9% of respondents in September and July thought unemployment would improve in the next 12 months, alongside 10% in September and 11% in July who expected improved job opportunities for young people.
Similar to the negative expectations about unemployment, just over half of respondents to our latest poll said they think homelessness in the UK (51%) and the gap between the rich and the poor (52%) will worsen in the following year.
The perception that homelessness and the gap between the rich and the poor will both worsen is higher among those who voted for Labour rather than Conservative in the 2019 General Election: 56% of Labour voters and 46% of Conservative voters think homelessness will worsen, and 56% of Labour voters and 45% of Conservative voters think the rich-poor gap will worsen.
There has been an increase in expected improvements in both homelessness and the gap between the rich and the poor, but not as substantially as in other areas. In January, 9% said they thought homelessness would improve in the following 12 months, whereas 7% said the same in September and July. In terms of the gap between the rich and the poor, 7% in January and 6% in September and July expected an improvement. Thus, the proportion of respondents in March who think homelessness (13%) and the gap between the rich and the poor (9%) will improve in the following 12 months has increased only slightly.
Another area in which many British people expect a deterioration is crime levels, which a plurality of respondents have consistently predicted will worsen since July. In our latest poll, 46% of respondents say they expect crime levels to worsen over the next 12 months. These figures are virtually unchanged from the 49% we saw in January and September and 47% in July. Indeed, many fear a surge in crime following the end of lockdown.
Although majorities expect further worsening in many national economic and social matters, a plurality (46%) of respondents believe their personal financial situation will remain the same in the next year. Meanwhile, 28% of the British public predict their financial situation will improve, which, while still not high, represents an increase from 19% in January 2021 and 15% in September 2020.
There is also a widespread sense that Britons’ personal health will remain the same in the next 12 months, an expectation held by 55% of respondents. A quarter (25%) of respondents expect their health will improve in the next year—including 54% of 18 to 24-year-olds, who likely anticipate improvements to their physical and mental health as restrictions ease.
The British public also does not expect any major changes to the quality of the UK’s healthcare system, as almost half (48%) of respondents said they expect the quality of the NHS to stay the same in the next 12 months. Meanwhile, 26% expect it will improve and 20% expect it will worsen.
The proportion of respondents who believe the quality of the NHS will worsen in the coming year has decreased considerably since January, when 32% of respondents selected this option. It is, however, roughly the same as in September and July, when 22% (September) and 19% (July) said the quality of the NHS would worsen over the following 12 months.
Expectations about the future of the UK’s education system have changed dramatically in the last three months, possibly as a result of the 8 March reopening of schools. In January, when most students were attending classes remotely, a plurality (43%) of respondents said the education system would worsen in the next 12 months. Now, in March, a plurality (44%) instead say the education system will stay the same, similar to the levels who chose this response in September (45%) and July (45%).
Likewise, our latest poll finds that a plurality (38%) of 18 to 24-year-olds—consistently the most optimistic age group about improvements in the next year—anticipate the education system will improve over the next 12 months.
The British public is clearly feeling more optimistic about the next year than at previous points during the pandemic, which is likely largely attributable to the fast pace of vaccinations in the UK and the Government’s roadmap for easing restrictions in the coming months. Yet, when it comes to unemployment, homelessness, the gap between the rich and the poor, and crime, the dominant position remains one of concern that the situation will worsen over the next 12 months. While expectations of improvements are growing in some areas, they remain a minority view, with personal health and finances, the quality of the NHS, and the quality of the education system being the main constants that the public expects will remain the same over the coming year.