The changes to daily life brought about by COVID-19 and the far-reaching restrictions introduced to slow the spread of the virus are without precedent in modern times.
To understand how public attitudes have been affected by the pandemic and the measures taken in response to it, the Health Foundation commissioned Ipsos MORI to conduct a representative national poll. The survey was conducted by telephone between 1–10 May 2020 with a representative sample of 1,983 adults in Great Britain.
The chart story below summarises five things we have learnt from the polling so far, with further detail about each finding further down the page.
In more detail
1. Concern about coronavirus and social distancing restrictions is extremely high
At the daily briefing on 30 April – just before our survey fieldwork began – Boris Johnson declared the UK ‘past the peak’ of deaths from COVID-19, praising the ‘massive collective effort’ by the public. Our survey asked how concerned, if at all, people were about the impact of COVID-19 and the social distancing restrictions on the nation’s health and wellbeing. Unsurprisingly, most people are concerned about COVID-19, with 94% of people fairly or very concerned. However, a majority (77%) are also very or fairly concerned about the impact of the social distancing restrictions. Finding a way to ease the restrictions while concerns about the virus are so high is going to be an incredibly difficult balancing act.
2. Compared to before the COVID-19 outbreak, more people are finding everyday tasks harder rather than easier
With over 40,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the UK, why are people so concerned about the impact of measures designed to protect them from the virus? The survey sheds light on a range of health and wellbeing challenges people faced during the height of lockdown. This includes struggling to get basic food items (54%) and household goods (49%), finding it harder to communicate with friends and family (47%), access green space (33%) and obtain essential medication (24%). Nearly half (46%) of the population feel the crisis is affecting their mental health in one way or another. Two fifths (41%) of people have experienced a negative or significantly negative impact on their income.
3. Very few people think the government’s measures in response to COVID-19 go too far and were not necessary
In spite of the far-reaching impact of the restrictions, a majority of the public (58%) believe the government’s response to the virus was about right. Virtually all of those who disagree (37%) think the government’s measures did not go far enough and only 4% think the measures were unnecessary and the government went too far. Responses to this question were divided along party lines, with Conservative voters significantly more likely to agree that the measures were about right (73%) while Labour voters were more likely to favour going further (55%).
4. While people mostly believe NHS services are coping well, some feel apprehensive about using GP services and hospitals especially
Positive feeling towards the NHS seem to have been further reinforced during the outbreak. Health services are perceived to be managing well, despite the pandemic. In the next 12 months, 45% of people think the general standard of NHS care will have improved – a considerable jump from 17% just six months ago. Despite this optimism, a sizeable minority of the public (47%) would feel uncomfortable using their local hospital over the next few weeks if the need arose, with 20% feeling the same way about their local GP service. The overwhelming reason for this discomfort is fear of being exposed to COVID-19 (76% for hospital, 63% for a GP practice). Addressing these concerns will need to be a priority as the NHS moves to restart services suspended during lockdown.
5. The pandemic appears to have led to substantial changes in public priorities, including views on who is responsible for our health
As well as changing our lives, COVID-19 also appears to have changed our priorities. A majority of the public (62%) say they are likely to download the proposed contact tracing app. Before the pandemic, would people have been nearly so willing to entrust their safety, and perhaps elements of their personal freedom, to a government-endorsed smartphone app? The government may have an electoral mandate to ‘get Brexit done’, but our survey also indicated public support for extending the transition period to focus on COVID-19. And the COVID-19 crisis has also led to a shift in attitudes about the role of the state. Nearly 9 in 10 people (86%) now believe the national government has a ‘great deal’ or ‘fair amount’ of responsibility for ensuring people generally stay healthy, significantly up from 61% in 2018. Similarly, 76% see local government as having responsibility for people’s health (up from 55% in 2018).