Political leaders and governments risk underestimating the disruptive impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the public’s opinions, expectations and preferences. Our research shows the disease and the measures taken to suppress it have triggered substantial change in public attitudes that will lead to lasting economic and social change, and should be factored into the government’s response.
Attempts to return the United Kingdom to the way things were will not be successful, because it is not what the public want or what businesses will invest in. While overall the pandemic has had a negative impact on the public’s health and wellbeing, and will continue to have serious consequences for our economy, it has also caused changes in the way we live our lives, and what we want from our society, that the public wants to maintain. This includes:
- the expectation of a substantial shift in patterns of working to increase flexibility in terms of place and time of working
- an increase in community engagement and volunteering in our public services
- a desire for greater economic resilience against global shocks, even at the cost of higher prices or taxes
The nationally representative poll of 1,094 Britons found that a clear majority want to see big changes to the way the country works after the pandemic, with about 25% of those wanting change saying that they have changed their mind as a result of the pandemic. People want better pay for the low paid, with seven in ten (71%) willing to pay higher taxes and prices to provide better pay and conditions for low paid workers.
Further changes that Brits have the greatest enthusiasm for:
- A more generous welfare system, with a majority of people (57%) wanting benefits for the unemployed and low paid to be higher after the pandemic than they were before.
- More remote working, with just over half (51%) of those who can work from home wanting to do so more often than they did before the pandemic.
- A greater effort to reduce inequality, with the poll finding that many people want to see more done to tackle age inequality (53%), inequalities between ethnic groups (49%), and wealth inequality (57%) than before the pandemic.
- Increased government spending. Only a small minority (15%) want spending to be reduced, 26% say the government should maintain spending, while 47% say the government should spend more.
Commenting on the findings, Polly Mackenzie, Chief Executive of Demos, said:
“The positive news of a vaccine to round off the year provides a light at the end of a tunnel. There is finally a road to end the restrictions that have been in our lives for months, and we will hopefully be able to hug our friends and family again come the summer of 2021. But our new research is clear: despite a desire for people to want an end to the pandemic and the restrictions that come with it, the Government should not be complacent about things returning to ‘normal’.
“The measures taken to suppress the virus have caused substantial change in attitudes about what people want from a future after the pandemic. The desires and expectations of the public have shifted, and the Prime Minister is leading a different nation to the one he was leading ten months ago. Understanding this is key to the government’s plans for the economic and social recovery, and they cannot succeed unless they bring the public with them.”
Demos’ national conversation about the future of the UK after the pandemic, Renew Normal, is still open, and wants to hear from people across the UK. People can take part, and have their say on issues ranging from misinformation to the environment, here.