Press release

Change of public mood creates challenge for the next government

Findings from the latest British Social Attitudes (BSA) report, from the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen).
  • Publishing date:
    12 June 2024

The results of the latest British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey, published today by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), reveal that there have been significant changes in the public mood since the last election in 2019. As a result, the next government, whatever its partisan colour, will find itself with many policy and political challenges ahead.

Much of the change in the public mood has been occasioned by the fallout from the pandemic and the Russian-Ukraine war, including the impact on inequality, the health service, Brexit, and immigration. At the same time, the experience of the last few years has served to undermine confidence in the country’s system of government.

Inequality, cost of living, and housing

Debates about inequality during the pandemic have seemingly created a public that is now more concerned about the level of poverty. At the same time, more people say they are ‘struggling’ on their current income.

  • 73% now believe there is ‘a great deal’ of poverty in Britain, up from 68% in 2019.
  • 70% say that their income has failed to keep up with prices over the last twelve months.
  • 26% say they are ‘struggling’ on their current income, compared with 17% in 2020.

However, the experience of living at home more during lockdown may explain why fewer people now support more houses being built in their neighbourhood, despite the difficulty that many currently have in finding affordable accommodation.

  • 41% support more houses being built in their local area, down from 57% in 2018.

The NHS and tax and spend

The post-pandemic growth in NHS waiting times have resulted in record levels of dissatisfaction with the health service. The same is true of social care, which also came under great pressure during the pandemic.

  • The proportion dissatisfied with the NHS is, at 52%, slightly more than double what it was in 2019 (25%).
  • As many as 57% are dissatisfied with the provision of social care, up 20 points on 2019 (37%).

Even though taxation is now at a record high, at present, at least, many people still seem to regard the state of the NHS as a more pressing problem than the level of taxes.

  • 46% say that, if forced to choose, the government should increase taxes and spend more on ‘health, education and social benefits’.
  • This is down somewhat on the 53% who expressed that view in 2019, but is still well above the 31% figure recorded in 2010 at the end of the last period of Labour government.

Brexit and immigration

Record levels of immigration since the pandemic have reversed a previous trend towards more liberal attitudes towards immigration. Together with doubts about the economic benefits of Brexit, they have also resulted in a change of attitudes to the EU.

  • In 2019, 47% said that migrants who come to Britain are good for the economy. This edged up further to 50% in 2021 but, in the most recent reading, this has fallen back to 39%.
  • 45% said in 2019 that migrants enrich Britain’s cultural life, while 48% did so in 2021. Now the figure is 38%.
  • In 2019, 51% thought that the economy would be worse off as a result of leaving the EU. Now 71% believe the economy is worse off as a result of Brexit.
  • Faced with a range of options for Britain’s relationship with the EU, in 2016, 41% said that Britain should be outside the EU, as did 36% in 2019. Now the figure stands at 24%.
  • Supporters and opponents of Brexit continue to have different political preferences. 45% of supporters think of themselves as a Conservative, while 49% of opponents identify as a Labour supporter.

Trust and confidence in government

Between them, these policy concerns, together with the political instability of the last couple of years, have undermined levels of trust and confidence in how Britain is governed, a change that has occasioned increased support for constitutional reform.

  • As many as 45% ‘almost never trust governments of any particular party to place the needs of the nation above the interests of their own political party’, up from 34% in 2019 and a record high.
  • After falling from 79% in 2019 to 61% the following year, once again 79% believe the present system of governing Britain is in need of ‘quite a lot’ or ‘a great deal’ of improvement.
  • A record high of 53% now say we should change the Commons voting system ‘to allow smaller parties to get a fairer share of MPs’. 60% of Labour supporters take this view, whereas 73% of Conservative supporters believe we should keep the current system ‘to produce effective government’.
  • A record low of 45% believe that England should be governed as now from Westminster rather than have regional assemblies (26%) or an English Parliament (23%).

Gillian Prior, Interim Chief Executive at the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), says: “The last four years of parliament have left their imprint on public opinion. From the NHS to immigration, from inequality to tax and spend, people’s attitudes have been affected by the experience of a pandemic, a cost of living crisis, and political turmoil. The period has left them asking themselves just how well they are being governed. Irrespective of its partisan colour, the next government will have much to do if it is to meet people’s concerns about the many difficulties they feel the country has been facing.”