Throughout the coronavirus crisis, Redfield & Wilton Strategies have been monitoring the levels of optimism and pessimism in the UK. In our latest set of polling, we tracked the public’s opinion about the direction the country is heading over the next twelve months. Overwhelmingly, across several aspects of society, Brits believe that ‘things will worsen.’
Polling conducted four weeks ago found that 72% of Brits believed there will be a second wave of coronavirus cases in the UK. At the end of July, the results are strikingly similar: 73% of the UK public currently thinks there will be a second wave of coronavirus cases in the UK. A strong majority of respondents across different age brackets, geographical regions and political parties hold this view.
Although the vast majority of respondents believe there will be a second wave, almost two thirds (66%) consider that their health will stay the same, while just 13% believe it will improve and 13% think it will worsen.
Among older age groups, more susceptible to the virus, just 9% of 45-54-year olds, 5% of 55-64-year olds and 8% of 65+ are confident their health will improve. In contrast, a relatively high percentage of younger respondents consider that their health will improve over the next 12 months: approximately a fifth of 18-24-year olds, 25-to-34-year olds and 35-to-44-year olds hold this view. As discussed in our analysis focused on the Government’s anti-obesity strategy, the eating habits of younger respondents are more likely to be influenced by the Government’s new measures, while it may also be the case that younger people believe their mental health will improve now that the national lockdown has ended.
A majority of the public believe that the quality of the NHS will stay the same during the next 12 months. A fifth (20%) consider that the quality of the NHS will improve, while 19% think the quality of the service will worsen.
Turning to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, a slight majority (53%) consider that their personal financial situation will stay the same. Concerningly, a quarter (25%) of the UK public believe their financial situation will worsen. Just 16% of the public think their financial situation will improve.
Respondents are particularly pessimistic about the levels of employment across the UK. Since March, paid employment in Britain has fallen by almost 650,000, yet the public is confident that unemployment will continue to rise as the country emerges from lockdown. Almost two thirds (64%) of Brits believe that unemployment in the UK will worsen across the next 12 months. Only 9% are confident that employment levels will improve during the next year.
The latest Government furlough figures show that 9.5 million people continue to rely on the scheme. Nevertheless, the Treasury has committed to ending the scheme, which has cost £31.7bn to date, in October. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research has predicted that the cessation of furlough will contribute to unemployment rising to 10% – more than three million people. An overwhelming majority (70%) of the public agree with the prediction of industry experts, and believe that the number of people unemployed will top three million (a figure infamously reached during Margaret Thatcher’s first term in 1982) by the end of 2020.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has underlined that, on the eve of the coronavirus outbreak, young people were more likely than other workers to be employed in sectors which have been effectively shut down as part of the UK lockdown. Despite the gradual re-starting of sectors of the economy likely to employ younger people, a clear majority (62%) of the UK public believes that job opportunities for young people will worsen over the next year. Only 11% think an improvement in early career job opportunities is likely
Young people are relatively more optimistic about the job opportunities that will be available for their generation during the next 12 months. 23% of 18-24 year olds are confident that job opportunities will improve, while a significant minority (29%) think job opportunities will stay the same. Less than half (43%) think the job market for younger applicants will worsen. The relative optimism evident in the responses of younger people may be due to a belief that they could benefit from the ‘kickstart jobs scheme’ which will subsidise six-month work placements for people on Universal Credit aged between 16 and 24, who are at risk of long-term unemployment.
The Government has committed to ‘level up’ the UK, in particular through closing the gap between the north and south of the country by investing in large scale infrastructure projects such as the HS2 rail line. Nevertheless, Conservative MP William Wragg has called for the Government to set out what “levelling up” meant in practice and how it would be achieved. Overall, the UK public remains pessimistic that the UK Government will be able to effectively begin ‘levelling up the country’ within the next year – a majority (53%) believe that the gap between rich and poor ‘will worsen’ in the next 12 months, while over a third (34%) consider that it will stay the same. Only a tiny minority (6%) think the gap between the rich and poor will improve within the next year.
As the country locked down, homelessness levels declined rapidly as the UK Government provided emergency accommodation to more than 14,500 people, and as lockdown was ending in late June, the Treasury pledged £105 million to support local councils in a drive to end homelessness for good. Despite the Government’s commitment to the issue, a slight majority (51%) of Brits believe that levels of homelessness in the UK will worsen during the next 12 months.
During the 2019 General Election, the Conservatives pledged to recruit 20,000 new police officers in England and Wales within three years – almost reversing the reduction in numbers since their party came to power in 2010. The police recruitment drive is ‘on track’ with 22% of the 20,000 officer-target having already been recruited. Although the Conservatives have been keen to stress their commitment to reducing criminal activity, a strong plurality (47%) of the public believe that levels of crime will worsen over the coming year. Moreover, a significant minority (37%) consider that levels of crime will stay the same, while just 8% think crime rates ‘will improve’
Interestingly, opinion on the future levels of crime in the UK varies depending on the age of respondents. Only around a third (32-33%) of 18-to-24-year olds and 25-to-34-year olds believe crime will worsen in the next year. In contrast, a majority (54-55%) of 45-to-54-year olds, 55-to-64-year olds and 65+ year old respondents consider that crime will worsen. Furthermore, half (50%) of 2019 Conservative voters think that levels of crime will worsen in the next year. Overall, the public may consider that the increasing economic hardship for many will result in some individuals turning to criminal activity, ultimately increasing crime levels.
A plurality (45%) of Brits think the quality of the education system will stay the same over the next 12 months, yet over a third (36%) believe it will worsen. Just 10% are confident that the education system will improve during the next year. Fears that the education system will worsen may be driven by a concern that the UK Government and teaching unions are increasingly at odds about how schools can return at full capacity in September. Moreover, respondents may believe a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic will disrupt the education system further, with poorer pupils most impacted.
Although this analysis has highlighted that the public is generally pessimistic about the future of the country, one positive which can be taken from the events of the last few months is that more than half (52%) of Brits agree they feel a greater sense of community due to the coronavirus pandemic. Just 17% disagree that there is a greater sense of community where they live due to the virus.
Overall, Brits remain pessimistic about the future of the UK. A central reason why the public think that several aspects of society will worsen over the next year may be the strongly held view that a second wave is inevitable. Respondents are broadly confident that their personal health, and the state of the NHS, will remain the same over the next 12 months. Nevertheless, it is clear that the public has an unfavourable view of the future UK economy: including the levels of employment and job opportunities for young people. A majority also consider that the gap of the rich and poor will worsen, and a plurality believe levels of crime will increase. On the positive side, most of the UK public now feel a greater sense of community.