On Friday last week, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced a stunning policy to address the economic effects of the coronavirus crisis: 80% of employees’ wages would be covered the Government while businesses were shut down, up to a total of £2,500 per month per worker. Such an unprecedented intervention, amounting to a massive increase in government expenditure, would ordinarily meet widespread scepticism in the United Kingdom. Respondents to our poll of 1,500 on Monday, however, overwhelmingly approved of this intervention.
Between our two polls, concern about the coronavirus had increased significantly. On a scale of 1 to 5, a majority of respondents rated their level concern at either a 4 or 5, compared to just 17% 10 days prior.
Last Friday, as the Government increased its measures to combat the coronavirus, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced, “The Government will cover 80% of the salaries of workers up to a total of £2,500 per month.” To what extent do you agree that this was the right course of action to take?
87% of respondents agreed with this new policy, and less than 2% disagreed with it. A smaller, two-third majority thought that these payments were critical in keeping the economy alive for the duration of this crisis.
Do you think these payments will make a substantial difference in keeping the economy alive?}
However, respondents also seemed to understand the incredible financial cost of this policy and were therefore wary of how long it would be sustainable. They clearly saw it as a short-term measure that would last half a year at most.
For how long, if at all, do you think these monthly payments will be sustainable?
To give some context for this widespread approval for this policy, one must consider the deep pessimism in members of the public regarding the state of the UK economy. When asked for their level of concern regarding the economic consequences of the coronavirus outbreak on a scale of 1 to 5, where 4 is ‘very worried and think there will be a recession’ and 5 is ‘extremely worried and am expecting the worst,’ an incredible 64% of respondents to our poll rated their level of concern at 4 or 5.
On a scale of 1 to 5, how concerned are you about the coronavirus outbreak and its effect on the nation’s economy?
When thinking about their own personal financial situation, which may give a better sense of how vulnerable people are, 11% of respondents said their situation will be dire and a further 28% said they will be “quite negatively impacted.”
On a scale of 1-5 how much of a financial impact do you expect coronavirus to have on your personal financial position?}
Given this significant uncertainty and feeling of vulnerability among members of the UK public regarding the economy and their personal financial situation, Chancellor Sunak’s actions must therefore have been quite reassuring in this time of crisis. As such, the Government effectively said, we will do whatever it takes.
It is important to note that while respondents to our poll showed extreme concern on the economy, they also indicated that they were primarily concerned about the effect of the coronavirus outbreak on the public health.
Which is more concerning to you?
In a broader sense, Chancellor Sunak’s action showed that the UK Government was not going to rush everyone back to work in an attempt to get the economy going again and at the cost of extreme strain on the healthcare system. Instead, the Government is going to fight this pandemic first while doing what it must to keep the economy afloat. And that is what the UK public appears to want.