The state according to the public

Our citizen survey

This year, we commissioned Ipsos MORI to survey more than 5,000 members of the public on attitudes to the government, public services and local economies. The survey shows how people feel about tax, spending and public service priorities amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It also explores attitudes towards data sharing with and across government, which remains a central part of the public sector’s response to the pandemic as well as one of its ongoing aspirations for future reform.

Key findings

1. Local job opportunities are the public’s biggest cause of dissatisfaction.
2. The public are worried about young people after COVID-19.
3. Half the public are expecting higher public spending and higher tax or borrowing.
4. Nearly half the public believe that pursuing a green recovery will boost the economy.
5. What people want levelled up varies by region.
6. Public priorities for more investment are health, social care, crime, jobs and housing.
7. The public are split on whether departments should share their data within government.
8. Attitudes to the public sector’s use of personal data vary by data type.
9. Older people are more likely to back data sharing across government.
10. The public increasingly trust the NHS with data more than any other part of the public sector.


1. Local job opportunities are the public’s biggest cause of dissatisfaction

Our survey asked people to tell us if they were satisfied or dissatisfied with different elements of their local economy, infrastructure and services. Overall, we found that the biggest cause of dissatisfaction relates to job opportunities, with housing and safety from crime joint second.

When it comes to public services, our survey found that people are far more satisfied if they actually use a service compared to those that don’t, and that is especially true in education. While 49 per cent of the general public say they are satisfied with schools some 70 per cent of people who come into contact with them say they are satisfied. Similarly while 44 per cent of the public are satisfied with universities that figure rises to 61 per cent among students.




Our survey asked whether people thought their area is better or worse than the rest of the UK, using the same list of factors. As Figure 2 shows, three in ten of the public believe job opportunities are better elsewhere. That stands out as the economic factor that the public is most likely to see as worse in their area than in any other.




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2. The public are worried about young people after COVID-19, but are more hopeful for community spirit and business innovation

Our survey asked people what they believe will get better, get worse or stay the same after the pandemic. We found that the majority of the public think opportunities for young people will be worse. However, more people than not are optimistic for an uplift in levels of community spirit where they live.

Some 45 per cent of the public also said that that they think the quality of public services will be worse after the pandemic, with the over 55s in particular expressing concern. The same proportion believe that the way government works for ordinary people might also get worse, suggesting that the sense of disenfranchisement and disconnection from the political system debated in recent years still remains.




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3. Half the public are expecting higher public spending and higher tax or borrowing after the pandemic compared with before

We asked the public for their prediction on whether the government will tax or borrow and spend more or less after the pandemic compared with before, and found that almost half believe taxes and spending will go up. Less than a sixth believe they will go down and a similar proportion believe they will stay the same.





We also asked people about their personal preference for tax and spending, and found that a third of the public would back higher levels of government spending and higher taxes or more government borrowing compared to one fifth who want to see lower taxes and lower public spending. Drilling into the data, graduates and people over 55 were significantly more likely to back higher spending and higher taxes.





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4. Nearly half the public believe that pursuing a green recovery will boost the economy.

Our survey asked the public if they think that pursuing a green economic recovery, for example by investing in renewable energy, would create jobs and boost the economy. We found that nearly half think that it would.





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5. What people want levelled up varies by region


Our survey data highlights which elements of local economies, services and facilities people feel are better in the rest of the UK compared to where they live. In other words, it points to what people would like to see ‘levelled up’.

It is important to recognise that these are relative measures and regions are highlighted where they differ from the UK average. So while people in all regions are concerned about job opportunities, for example, regions are highlighted in the table where they differ significantly from the UK average.

Figure 7 is a summary view of what people feel is significantly better or worse about their region compared with the national average. So for example, Londoners are particularly likely to think the capital’s housing, crime and local environment are worse than the rest of the UK. In contrast people in the North East are particularly likely to feel that job opportunities, schools, local amenities such as leisure facilities, transport links and skills provision need to be levelled up to equal the rest of the UK.




It is important to recognise that these are relative measures and regions are highlighted where they differ positively or negatively from the UK average. For example, while people in Scotland are less positive about their internet access compared to parts of the UK, they are still positive about it – just less so than the UK average.


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6. Public priorities for more investment are health, social care, crime, jobs and housing

Our survey asked people to allocate how they would spend extra public money in their area. We asked them to divide 100 points across local services, infrastructure and facilities.

The chart shows that the public would tend to weight their spending towards healthcare, but it’s notable that many would also invest in social and care services, perhaps highlighting growing public concerns about care. Housing and job opportunities are joint third highest priorities.





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7. The public are split on whether departments should share their data within government

When COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, the UK government eased regulations around data sharing within the public sector as part of its emergency response. Our survey explores what the public think about government departments and agencies sharing their data, and we found that the public are split on whether it should be freely shared within government, with some 36 per cent saying that it should and 37 per cent arguing it should not. However, attitudes towards data sharing appear to have improved since the questions was last asked in 2014, as Figure 9 illustrates.





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8. Attitudes to the public sector’s use of personal data vary by data type

Our survey found that people are relatively comfortable with the public sector’s use of their data to make decisions, but comfort levels vary by data type. As Figure 10 shows almost three-quarters of the public are comfortable with data on their ethnicity being used, but only half are comfortable with government using data on their income. However, some important variances exist within these comfort levels. For example, people from ethnic minorities are notably less comfortable with government using their ethnicity data, with 62 per cent saying they are comfortable and 34 per cent uncomfortable.





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9. Older people are more likely to back data sharing across government for its benefits and many private sector organisations

Our survey found that older people are more likely to back data sharing across government for its benefits. As Figure 11 shows, 40 per cent of the over 55s believe data should be shared for its benefits compared to 34 per cent in other age groups.

Drilling further into this data, we also found that younger people between 16 and 34 are less uncomfortable than other age groups with government using their health and income data to make decisions.





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10. The public increasingly trust the NHS with data more than any other part of the public sector

Our survey explored which parts of the public sector are trusted most to use people’s data appropriately. We found that the NHS is the most trusted part of the sector by some margin – and that trust has improved by six percentage points since the question was lasted asked six years ago.

Figure 12 shows levels of trust across a range of government functions, and shows that they vary significantly between the devolved administrations and the UK government. People in Scotland and Wales are much more likely to trust their national governments with their data than Whitehall.





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Contacts

Jayson Hadley

Lead Partner, Government & Public Services UK

+44 20 7303 7935

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Ed Roddis

Public Sector Research

+44 (0)20 7007 2920

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Jackie Henry

Partner

+44 (0)28 9053 1197

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Angela Mitchell

Partner

+44 (0)14 1304 5700

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Ian Howse

Partner

+44 (0)29 2026 4319

Email Ian View profile