How the coronavirus outbreak is changing the country: 11 key findings

Rosie Carter - 20 04 20

The coronavirus outbreak has completely changed everyday life in Britain, and with it raised big questions – how would our society respond?

Initial reports of panic buying, altercations in supermarkets and racist abuse against East Asian people, suggested it wasn’t clear. Would the crisis create fear and competition or solidarity and co-operation? Would the social and economic consequences of weeks of lockdown, create the conditions amongst which extreme politics often survives and thrives in communities suffering from economic insecurity, social uncertainty and institutional neglect?

To find out, we had to try and understand how people were feeling right now in the midst of the crisis. That way we could understand what challenges might lie ahead and what action those of us working for united and tolerant society needed to take now to ensure that future.

We polled* just over two thousand people in Britain twice over the course of three weeks. Our first poll was just before the lockdown was announced whilst the second was conducted two weeks into it. The findings discussed below are largely from the second poll unless otherwise mentioned.

1. People have come around to the scale of the coronavirus outbreak, and the majority of people are taking it very seriously

The severity of the crisis was understood by the British public as the country went into lockdown. 78% of people disagreed that the idea that the coronavirus wasn’t as serious as the government and media made it out to be, just 11% agreed  – down from 19% in our earlier poll.

Young people are now taking the crisis as seriously as older people. In the week before lockdown, our polling found that 30% of people aged 18-24 thought the coronavirus was not as serious as it was made out to be, but in our most recent poll, only 13% of those aged 16-24 did.

2. And most people aren’t expecting things to go back to normal anytime soon

Most people (69%) think that that Coronavirus will cause huge long-term disruption to the British economy. However, around a third (31%) thought that though Coronavirus will cause huge short-term disruption, it will pass and life will quickly return to normal.

3. People are already feeling the economic impacts of coronavirus, and are worried about what is to come

Despite the government’s efforts to invest in keeping Britain’s businesses running, 41% of people were worried that they or someone in their household could lose a job as a consequence of the economic fallout from Coronavirus. However, this is down from 47% of people in the week prior to lockdown, indicating that some are less fearful than before.

4. But most people agree that protecting the health of everyone in this country is more important than protecting the economy

Despite fears of economic disruption, most people (88%) wanted to protect the health of everyone in this country whatever the economic cost. Only 12% thought that it was essential to protect the economy of this country, even if it meant more older people died.

5. Social distancing measures mean that many people are feeling isolated and lonely

Almost a quarter of people (23%) reported that they had felt a deep sense of loneliness in the last four weeks before they were polled. Younger people were most likely to report feeling isolated, with close to half (42%) of 16-24 year olds saying that they’ve felt a deep sense of loneliness in the previous four weeks. Perhaps counter to expectation just 13% of over 65s said the same.

In polling conducted before Britain went into lockdown, 48% of people said that they were having less contact with their families, 46% were having less contact with their neighbours, and 63% were having less contact with others in the wider local community.

6. Despite greater disconnection, community spirit remains strong

A huge 81% of people were impressed with how communities were pulling together to support one another and stop the spread of coronavirus – just 5% disagree with this.

More than half of people (55%) had come out to clap in support of the NHS.

7. And this hope for one another is making more people optimistic for the future

In the years following the EU referendum, we found that the proportion of people who felt optimistic about the future had dwindled. Yet for some, the pandemic is actually bringing about hope that things will get better.

A majority (59%) said they were optimistic about the future, up from 52% just two weeks earlier, and up from less than half (46%) in December 2019.

8. This shift is also making people more trusting in the political system and public support in the government’s response to coronavirus has increased under lockdown

Trust in the Prime Minister and the government to deal with the crisis showed a rapid growth. Two weeks into the lockdown 64% of people said that they trusted Boris Johnson and the government to deal with the coronavirus pandemic appropriately, up from 50% in the week before the lockdown.

9. Despite faith in the government, people were frustrated that the government hadn’t rolled out widespread testing and felt that overall response had been too slow

Three quarters of people (76%) thought that the lack of Coronavirus testing had meant that the British Government’s ability to deal properly with the pandemic was severely limited, including 70% of Conservative voters.

Almost half (46%) thought that the Government had been too slow in dealing with the Coronavirus, and a third (35%) thought that the Government was blaming China for coronavirus to deflect from justified criticism that it was too slow in dealing with the outbreak in the UK. Younger people, graduates and Labour voters were all more likely to agree with this.

10. People mostly believe that the way through the pandemic will international cooperation rather than though nationalist or protectionist measures

As the crisis has spread across borders, most people support an international response to the pandemic, with 60% saying that Coronavirus is best dealt with at an international level and 40% preferring a national response.

Significantly 78% of people though that the international community should create a $8bn fund to support research into a globally available Coronavirus vaccine, while just 5% disagreed.

11. People want the government to support people impacted by the pandemic but are split over possible austerity measures

A large majority of people (79%) agreed that once the current lockdown is lifted the Government should continue to give additional financial support to those who have lost their jobs. Just 6% of people disagreed with this.

Only a minority (16%) felt the government should be allowed to reduce workers’ rights in order to boost economic recovery once the current lockdown is lifted.

For now, the country seems evenly split about how to respond to the huge levels of government debt resulting from this crisis.

 A third (35%) believed that the Government should cut public spending in order to reduce the public debt and balance its budget once the current lockdown is lifted whilst a similar proportion (33%) disagreed and almost the same number again (32%) were undecided.

* This survey was conducted using an online interview of adults aged 18+ who were sampled from across Great Britain, and weighted to be representative of the GB population.

It was administered by Focaldata.

Fieldwork for poll one was carried out between 20th-23rd March. Sample size: 2,022 

Fieldwork for poll two was carried out between 7th-9th April. Sample size: 2,032


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