The COVID-19 pandemic has been essentially the most critical public well being disaster in a century. It resulted in governments taking unprecedented powers to control individuals’s social lives, and endeavor substantial fiscal interventions to cushion the influence on individuals’s funds and the broader economic system. Some have recommended that the expertise can be so profound that the pandemic would show a “turning level in historical past” that heralded a major change in the way in which societies are organised and economies are run.
Nonetheless, implementing a profound change in public coverage is prone to be tough until it chimes with public opinion. So, has there been a major change in public attitudes within the wake of the pandemic? We now have pursued this query in Britain by analysing three surveys that had been performed between summer time 2020 and summer time 2021, every of which replicated questions that had been administered earlier than the pandemic on the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey, a top quality random likelihood survey performed yearly since 1983.
One key query we tackle is whether or not the pandemic modified attitudes in direction of inequality, welfare and the position of the state. The illness notably affected these dwelling in disadvantaged communities and stimulated debate about inequality in British society. The general public well being measures threatened the livelihoods of these in hitherto safe jobs, and thus might have modified their attitudes in direction of welfare provision. In the meantime, the growth of public spending might have led some to reassess how huge the state must be in future.
In apply, there are solely restricted indicators that any of this has occurred. True, there was a modest enhance in an already comparatively widespread stage of concern about inequality. On common in our three surveys performed through the pandemic, 64% agreed that “extraordinary individuals don’t get their justifiable share of the nation’s wealth” – up from 60% throughout the three surveys performed between 2017 and 2019. On the similar time, two-thirds (66%) agreed that “there may be one regulation for the wealthy and one for the poor” – up from 58% between 2017 and 2019.
Nonetheless, the expertise of the pandemic didn’t essentially stimulate a better willingness to take motion on inequality. At 43%, the proportion who agreed that the “authorities ought to redistribute revenue from the higher off to the much less properly off” was little totally different from the 42% who expressed that view within the years earlier than the pandemic.
There was definitely no dramatic change in attitudes in direction of welfare. For instance, in our pandemic surveys 44% disagreed that “many individuals who get social safety don’t actually deserve any assist”, little totally different from the 42% who did so beforehand. Equally, 40% disagreed that “most individuals on the dole are fiddling in a method or one other” – a lot the identical because the 39% who did so earlier than the pandemic.
Nonetheless, though public attitudes in direction of welfare might not have shifted a lot through the pandemic, they’re nonetheless very totally different now from these in proof a decade earlier. Between 2002 and 2012, simply 29% disagreed that many social safety recipients are usually not deserving of assist, whereas solely 27% disagreed that most individuals on the dole are fiddling. After an period when most individuals had been comparatively unsympathetic in direction of welfare advantages, the general public temper had already develop into way more supportive properly earlier than the pandemic set in.
A lot the identical is true of attitudes in direction of taxation and spending. Following the monetary crash of 2007-8, on common simply 35% mentioned that the federal government ought to “enhance taxes and spend extra on well being, schooling and social advantages”. Nonetheless, the general public had already reacted towards the curbs in public spending initiated by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition of 2010-15. By 2017-19 the proportion who thought taxes and spending ought to enhance had reached 57%.
That determine fell considerably through the pandemic – to 51%. However the swing could be considered modest in contrast with the size of public spending through the pandemic – and certainly is prone to be in place for a while but. In any occasion, the marked enhance in public spending that occurred through the pandemic was accompanied by a public temper that was already on the lookout for some growth within the position of the state.
The pandemic exhibits little signal of being a “turning level” in public opinion. Quite, it’s higher thought to be barometer of present social and political attitudes in Britain. The inequality of the pandemic stimulated debate as a result of many had been already involved about inequality. Elevated welfare provision mirrored a extra sympathetic public temper that was already in place. In the meantime, the general public had been already looking for extra authorities spending on public companies.
Quite than having to reply to a brand new public temper, the problem going through coverage makers within the post-pandemic period will probably be to establish how finest to reply to a quite totally different public temper that has already been in place for a while.
The price of conducting two of the three pandemic surveys reported right here was funded by the Financial and Social Analysis council as a part of UK Analysis and Innovation’s COVID-19 initiative (grant no. ES/V009788/1). NatCen’s British Social Attitudes survey is funded annually on a modular foundation by a mix of UK authorities and grant funding.
Curtis Jessop receives funding for this analysis from the ESRC
Dominic Abrams receives funding for this analysis from the ESRC.