The Big Conversation: Over a third of Brits have suffered worse mental health since the pandemic began
Employees have moved to working from home en masse, meeting up with over six people is now a crime enshrined in law and face mask wearing is mandatory in much of the public sphere.
All these changes have uprooted and altered many people’s attitudes, priorities and lives, which is why we asked readers across the country about what’s changed for you in our Big Conversation survey.
The Big Conversation survey was created by JPI Media; publisher of newspapers and websites across the UK including The Scotsman, Yorkshire Post, The Star (Sheffield), The News (Portsmouth), Edinburgh Evening News, Sunderland Echo, Lancashire Post, Yorkshire Evening Post and Belfast News Letter.
The survey looked at a range of issues surrounding the pandemic, including changes to personal lives, travel habits, health, employment, local life and fears and hopes for the post-pandemic world.
Getting out and about
City and town centres have suffered as a result of the pandemic, with a sustained drop in footfall even after March lockdown restrictions were lifted.
This is reflected in answers from respondents, with the majority saying they have visited their town or city centre “less” (22.21 per cent) or “a lot less” (39.90 per cent) than they did prior to lockdown.
Just 2.65 per cent said they are visiting “more”, and 1.01 per cent “a lot more”.
In terms of confidence in venturing out of the house, “visiting beaches, parks and green spaces” is an activity that 83.93 per cent of respondents said they feel either “comfortable” or “very comfortable” doing.
This stands in contrast to “going on holidays or short breaks in the UK”, which just 9.65 per cent feel “very comfortable” with, and 11.81 per cent “comfortable” with.
Visiting friends and family was an activity most felt comfortable with doing, with 36.98 per cent saying they feel “very comfortable” visiting friends and family, and 39.65 per cent saying they feel “comfortable” with the idea.
Confidence in taking public transport is low, with 72.26 per cent of respondents saying they feel either “not comfortable” or “not at all comfortable” with it.
Respondents were unsure how confident they felt sending their children back to school, with the majority - 44.62 per cent - saying they didn’t know or weren’t sure how comfortable they felt with the idea.
Respondents voted “visiting family” as the most important activity for a good quality of life - either pre- or post-pandemic - with 77.35 per cent saying this was important to their personal quality of life.
Eating at cafes/restaurants was a fairly close second, with 63.22 per cent of respondents saying this was important to their personal quality of life.
Over 50 per cent - 50.61 per cent - of respondents said going on a holiday or short break in the UK was important to their quality of life.
Over half of respondents have become more thrifty since the pandemic began, with 54.87 per cent saying they’ve cut back on spending.
And while the High Street may have suffered from a drop in footfall, many local businesses have done well as a result of the crisis, with 48.90 per cent of respondents saying they are supporting local businesses more than they once were.
Most respondents believe they’ve adapted to the move of many activities online well, with 47.85 per cent saying they’ve adapted “very well” and 38.16 per cent saying they’ve adapted “fairly well”.
For those who have struggled in some regard, the biggest problem - suffered by 54 per cent of respondents - was not having someone to turn to for help.
At the time of the survey ,54.56 per cent of respondents said they are currently in paid work, followed by 33.93 per cent who aren’t. Just 3.19 per cent of respondents were on furlough.
Job security or income was a worry for some, with 34.45 per cent of respondents saying they were “concerned” or “very concerned” about their job security or income, while 46.06 per cent said they were “concerned” or “very concerned” about their personal or household finances.
Fears, concerns and hopes
There are some things that people want to see change permanently post-pandemic.
The largest proportion of respondents - 84 per cent - said that action to shift the the work/life balance in favour of family and leisure time was “important” or “very important” to them.
Greater flexibility to work from home and less emphasis on on-site working was deemed “important” or “very important” by 69.55 per cent of respondents.
Greater provision of affordable and carbon-neutral housing was deemed “important” or “very important” to 64.39 per cent of respondents
Looking forward to Christmas, 71.06 per cent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “The Christmas period will be a good opportunity to support local businesses”.
The impact of a second wave of coronavirus was a worry for well over half of respondents, with 61.15 per cent saying they were “very concerned” about the prospect, and 24.60 saying they were “slightly concerned”.
Faith in the government’s recent “rule of six” measure was deemed “not effective” or “not at all effective” in reducing the chances of a second wave by 69.87 per cent of respondents.
Refuse collection and recycling services were rated as the highest quality service during the pandemic, with 83.34 per cent rating them “good” or “very good”.
The emergency services were rated as “good” or “very good” during the pandemic by 56.81 of respondents.
Social care services were deemed one of the lowest quality during the pandemic, with just 19.09 per cent of respondents rating them “good” or “very good”.
Over half - 62.11 per cent - of respondents believe that local hospitals are most in need of increased spending, while 52.82 per cent said social care is in need of increased spending.
Over a third - 33.54 per cent - believe that their community has got stronger since the pandemic began, but the highest number - 43.71 per cent - say it has become neither weaker nor stronger.
When it comes to tourism, most - 41.93 per cent - believe there has been no change to how much they value it, but 36.1 per cent say they value it more.
A number of respondents - 57.23 per cent - have not needed an appointment with a hospital or specialist since the pandemic began.
However, of the 42.35 per cent who did make an appointment, 37.57 said they found making an appointment either “difficult” or “very difficult”.
The statement that “Future healthcare funding should focus mostly on increasing the numbers of doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers” was agreed with by 78.99 per cent of respondents, but just 47.68 per cent said that they would pay more tax to fund health and social care services.
The majority of respondents indicated that they are missing face-to-face contact with a GP, with 80.36 per cent saying they would like to access advice from their GP in person in the coming months.
Most - 61.67 per cent - however, would prefer to access prescriptions online in the coming months.
In terms of mental health, 22.70 per cent say their mental health has been “strongly affected” by the pandemic, while 43.60 per cent say it has been “slightly affected”.
The majority of those surveyed in the Big Conversation lived in England, (79.56 per cent) with 13.56 per cent from Scotland and 5.93 per cent from Northern Ireland. Women made up 67.71 per cent of respondents.