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COVID-19 crisis leads to shift in public attitudes about the role of the state

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New polling also shows high levels of concern about the pandemic’s impact on health and wellbeing

New research published today by the Health Foundation and Ipsos MORI finds that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased public recognition of the role of the state in supporting good health.

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).

The survey also shows that over three-quarters (77%) of British people are concerned about the impact of social distancing on the health and wellbeing of the nation, a figure that rises to 83% among over 65s. The survey sheds light on a range of health and wellbeing challenges people faced during the height of lockdown, such as finding it harder to communicate with friends and family (47%), struggling to get basic food items (54%), household goods (49%) and essential medication (24%) and access green space (33%), which may be driving increased recognition of the role of the state. The research, undertaken in May, also indicates that 46% of the population feel the crisis is affecting their mental health in one way or another.

While some of the negative experiences reported in the survey will lessen as lockdown eases, the Health Foundation warns that the financial impacts revealed in the survey risk affecting people’s health and wellbeing in the longer term. In particular, the representative survey highlights that:

  • two fifths (41%) of people have experienced a negative or significantly negative impact on their income
  • significant numbers have had to dip into finance beyond their normal income, with 17% accessing savings and 12% using their overdraft as a result of the pandemic
  • young people have been particularly affected, with 23% of 18-24-year olds and 20% of 25-34-year olds already having borrowed, or considering borrowing money from family and friends, compared to 4% of those aged 65+.

The Health Foundation has previously highlighted that measures necessary to control the spread of the virus are exacting a heavier social and economic price on some population groups over others. Government action is needed to protect the most vulnerable in the short term, but the Health Foundation calls on the government to do far more to improve health for all in the longer term.

Dr Jennifer Dixon, Chief Executive of the Health Foundation, said:

‘This research shows that people increasingly expect and want protection from government at a time of crisis. They want protection not just to reduce the risks of avoidable illness, like COVID-19, but also avoidable economic hardship. Economic hardship, as we have seen from this pandemic, increases individual’s and community’s vulnerability to COVID-19. It also exacerbates ill health more generally and widens inequalities in health as we have seen in the last decade across England.

‘As we move into the recovery phase, a cross government health inequalities strategy and action plan is needed now.’

Read all the survey results

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