Protecting the environment has overtaken affordable housing and the threat of terrorism in the British public’s policy priorities over the last eight months, polling has revealed.
Polling by BritainThinks, commissioned by Engage Britain, found that concern about the climate crisis has risen at roughly the same rate for all age groups, and has emerged as the single most important issue for young people. It comes as the activist group Extinction Rebellion is due to stage another round of protests expected to bring parts of the country to a standstill.
The findings also cast at least partial doubt on the image of Britain as a hopelessly divided nation that Boris Johnson has pledged to “unite”.
Both leave and remain voters, across the demographic spectrum, consider “funding health and social care” and “providing opportunities for families living in poverty” to be among the top three issues facing the country.
The polling revealed there is little support anywhere on the political spectrum for people having to sell their homes to pay for care – a proposal in the 2017 Conservative election manifesto.
Further, there is broad support across the British population for the availability of childcare, fair treatment of workers through pay and conditions, and improving training for the unemployed as ways of tackling poverty.
The polling was conducted via an online survey of 5,032 members of the public in October 2018. The core questions were repeated with a 2,009-person sample in June 2019.
Within both surveys, participants were asked to make a series of choices, ranking core challenges facing the UK from most to least important.
Some political divisions remain, however: responses to the 2019 survey showed that poverty is not a priority for those who say they would vote for the Brexit party at the next election.
The 2018 survey also found that while immigration, the environment and trade with other countries are not prioritised by the public overall, for each of these issues there is a significant minority who it to be very important.
Although these priorities are of higher importance to some groups than others, the 2019 follow-up survey showed a general increase in the prioritisation of the environment (including among older voters) and a decreasing prioritisation of immigration across most groups.
The survey also concluded that immigration is felt to be the most divisive of the challenges tested, while terrorism is deemed to be most complicated to solve.
Julian McCrae, the managing director of Engage Britain, a policy organisation focused on tackling Britain’s challenges, said: “Too often Britain is painted as a hopelessly divided country, sliding into a US-style culture war. But our findings paint a more complex, potentially positive picture than this.
“Our new prime minister takes the reins at a time when the country is at a crossroads. The choices they make in the coming months will shape our nation for years to come. But on some of the biggest issues – such as health, social care, the environment and poverty – there is much common ground from which to pave a way forward.”
Trustees of the thinktank include Ruth Hunt, the chief executive of Stonewall; Trevor Phillips, a former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission; and Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
Environment of greater concern than housing or terrorism – UK poll – The Guardian