British voters do not trust Boris Johnson and his health secretary Matt Hancock to beat coronavirus, according to a new survey – and less than a quarter (22 per cent) think it would be reasonable for ministers to expect them to keep obeying restrictions on their social and economic lives beyond the spring.
Andrew Woodcock, political editor www.independent.co.uk
The poll by BMG Research for The Independent laid bare the extent of financial hardship caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown measures imposed by the government to fight it.
More than a quarter of those questioned (26 per cent) said that their household incomes had gone down as a result of the outbreak.
And some 3.4 per cent – the equivalent of more than 900,000 families or sole-person households – said their income had fallen by more than half.
The poll of 1,500 people was conducted as Mr Johnson struggled to maintain his grip on his regional coronavirus policy, with councils in the north rejecting his efforts to tighten local restrictions and Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer demanding a national “circuit-breaker” lockdown.
It found that just 36 per cent now trust the prime minister to lead the response to the pandemic, against 44 per who do not – an overall rating of -8. For Mr Hancock, the figures were more damning, with a trust rating of -13 based on just 26 per cent trusting him and 39 per cent expressing distrust.
The most trusted politician was chancellor Rishi Sunak, whose +19 rating of 44 per cent trust compared to 23 per cent distrust was no doubt buoyed by his role handing out close to £200bn in state support, including a furlough scheme paying up to 80 per cent of wages for employees unable to work.
Nicola Sturgeon had a +13 trust rating (42 – 29 per cent), soaring to +22 (52 – 30 per cent) in Scotland, while Starmer’s positive rating was a more modest +9 (36 – 27 per cent).
Levels of trust in the key pandemic experts were comfortably higher, with chief medical officer for England Chris Whitty scoring +25 (41 – 16 per cent) and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance +21 (36 – 15 per cent).
The figure with lowest public credibility on dealing with coronavirus was US president Donald Trump, with just 11 per cent of Britons saying they trusted him on the issue, against 73 per cent who did not.
There was little sign of optimism for an improvement to families’ financial position in the near future, with 25 per cent of those questioned saying that they expect their household income to decline further over the next six months. The period will see the replacement of Mr Sunak’s furlough scheme in November with a less generous system paying 22 per cent of wages – or 67 per cent for firms forced to close in tier 3 Covid alert areas.
And it will see the withdrawal in April of the £20-a-week temporary uplift to universal credit and working tax credit provided to help benefit claimants weather the coronavirus storm.
The poll found that those most likely to lose out financially due to coronavirus were 25- to 34-year-olds – those most likely to be bringing up small children – among whom 36 per cent said their household income had fallen, against just 10 per cent who said it had gone up. By contrast, just 8 per cent of over-65s reported financial loss.
Ethnic minority households were far more likely to report that they had lost income (35 per cent) than white British (24 per cent).
The director of policy at the Child Poverty Action Group, Louisa McGeehan, said the poll’s findings reflected the group’s own experience of families with children suffering money woes.
“As these figures suggest, parents of young children are more likely to be struggling due to falling incomes, lack of childcare and the additional costs of raising children,” Ms McGeehan told The Independent.
“Our own research found that eight in 10 hard-up families are financially worse-off as a result of the pandemic. Despite this, there has been no financial support from the government specifically targeted at families with children.”
Removing the benefit uplift in the spring “makes no sense”, said Ms McGeehan, calling instead for a £10 weekly increase in child benefit to help protect children from hardship.
And Emma Revie, chief executive of foodbank charity the Trussell Trust, said: “It is shocking how many people have seen their incomes fall during the pandemic.
“This has led several thousands of people to be forced to use a food bank for the first time. This is not right.
“Our own research forecasts that if we don’t take action as a nation, our network of food banks will be giving out six food parcels a minute this winter.
“But it doesn’t have to be like this. This year we’ve seen the power of what happens when we stand together in the face of adversity. That is why we’re urging the government to preserve the lifelines that have saved many of us from destitution through this pandemic.”
Among the 26 per cent reporting a blow to their finances, around one in six (16 per cent) said their household income had fallen by less than 10 per cent, a quarter (25 per cent) said it was down by 10-19 per cent, a further 22 per cent had taken a hit of 20-29 per cent in their income, 10 per cent had lost 30-39 per cent, and 7 per cent had lost 40-49 per cent. But a staggering 13 per cent of this group – equivalent to 3.4 per cent of the population – said that the money coming into their home was down by more than 50 per cent as a result of the pandemic.
The poll found that 49 per cent of voters believe that the government is right to prioritise limiting the number of deaths caused by the disease, while 30 per cent say limiting the damage to jobs and the economy should come first.
But it also indicated that Britons’ patience may soon run out for the lockdown restrictions which have forced them to stay in their homes, give up visits to pubs and restaurants and limit socialising with friends and family.
A clear majority (65 per cent) said it was “reasonable” for the current restrictions in their area to continue until Christmas, against just 19 per cent who said it was not.
That majority fell if the restrictions were extended to the spring of 2021 – as Mr Johnson has suggested they might – with 46 per cent saying this would be reasonable and 34 per cent unreasonable.
But beyond this date, support for continued measures drops off a cliff, with 51 per cent saying it would be unreasonable to carry on to the end of 2021 and 59 per cent into 2022, even if no vaccine or effective treatment is found.
Only a hardcore 13 per cent of lockdown accepters said that it would be reasonable to keep measures going into 2022, and these people appear ready to maintain them almost indefinitely, as virtually the same proportion were happy to continue into 2023.
BMG head of polling Robert Struthers said: “Boris Johnson’s own personal ratings strengthened as the first wave of the pandemic hit the UK back in February and March of this year.
“Now, as the second wave of the virus takes hold, it appears public trust has slipped away.
“The collapse in trust will likely worry those working across government, as the prime minister tries to reassure the public that the new measures introduced over the past week will be enough to halt the spread.”
Mr Struthers questioned whether Mr Sunak’s popularity would survive the planned rollback of his support schemes.
“You might expect the trust ratings of the chancellor and prime minister to be closely aligned given how closely they will be working together at the top of government,” he said.
“However, this polling clearly shows that the public rate the chancellor’s performance and ability to hand the virus effectively – up until now at least – much more highly.
“However, as the second wave takes hold and economic support packages become more targeted and less generous, whether this trend continues is another matter entirely.”
– BMG Research questioned 1,500 UK adults between 8 and 13 October.