Fewer People Complying With Lockdown Restrictions

Peter Russell

May 29, 2020

Fewer people in the UK have stuck to the Government's COVID-19 lockdown restrictions over the past week, research has suggested.

Latest data from the COVID-19 Social Study by University College London (UCL) comes as UK authorities continue to ease rules designed to contain the pandemic.

It echoed latest official figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which found that more people in England, Scotland, and Wales left their homes in the last few days.

The UCL study of more than 90,000 people found that in the week ending 25th May, 'complete' compliance declined from an average of 70% of adults to just over 50%.

Among young adults, compliance levels were even lower, with only 40% reporting completely following lockdown rules.

Declining Confidence in the Government's Handling of the Pandemic

Confidence in Government to handle the pandemic decreased in England following the announcement of easing of lockdown measures. 

Confidence fell most notably amongst those under 30, those in urban areas, and those with a mental health diagnosis.

The dip was particularly noticeable over the bank holiday weekend, when the news was dominated by the row over Boris Johnson's special adviser Dominic Cummings and his controversial drive to Durham during lockdown.

A decline in confidence was not seen in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, where lockdown measures were eased later, the researchers noted.

The study has been ongoing since March and is updated with new findings each week. It is not published in a journal and has not been peer reviewed.

Latest Results

Among the main findings in the latest UCL bulletin were:

  • There was no evidence of any changes in mental health in response to the first stage of the easing of lockdown 2 weeks ago in England

  • Anxiety and depression levels remained relatively stable but higher than usual reported averages

  • Principle stressors relating to COVID-19, including being ill from the disease, accessing food, unemployment, and finances, remained relatively low

  • Health and social care keyworkers were showing similar experiences to people in lockdown at home, although they were less worried about unemployment

  • Thoughts of death or self-harm, experience of self-harm or abuse, and loneliness remained relatively stable, but were higher amongst younger people and those who lived alone

  • Life satisfaction remained lower than usual levels, but was higher than when lockdown started

Lead author Dr Daisy Fancourt, associate professor in behavioural science and health at UCL, said:  "Compliance with Government advice continues to fall, but still remains relatively high amongst most groups. Confidence in Government also continues to fall in England since the easing of lockdown was announced, dropping most noticeably over the bank holiday weekend."

Cheryl Lloyd, education programme head at the Nuffield Foundation, which is funding the study, said: "With compliance levels falling, it is increasingly important to know which specific lockdown measures adults are breaking, and to consider what this can tell us about how public health messages can be communicated more effectively."

Reaction to the Study

John Drury, professor of social psychology at the University of Sussex, told the Science Media Centre: "The authors' finding that adherence to the public health measures remains relatively high is good to see.

"But the decline in adherence, which the authors link to reduced confidence in the Government, is worrying.

"As our own research shows, the key to emergency communication is good relations between the authority and the public.  When the relationship is damaged, communication fails.

"I agree with those calling for the NHS and public health authorities to take leadership instead of this Government."

Robert Dingwall, professor of sociology at Nottingham Trent University, said reported levels of anxiety were "troubling" and suggested there were "problems that may remain for a good deal longer, especially as the declining levels of confidence in the UK/English government may lead to a lack of trust in its more optimistic messaging".

He added: "The lower compliance levels reported by younger people may also indicate a growing awareness of the trivial risk presented by COVID-19 to these age groups. The lockdown rules and advice are not proportionate to this, although they may be well-intentioned in helping to prevent transmission to older people."

ONS Figures

Figures published today by the ONS, covering a 4 day period over the bank holiday weekend, found that:

  • More people left their home, with 90% of adults saying they had left for any reason, compared with 86% last week

  • There was a large increase in the number of people leaving home to meet others in a public place

  • 42% of adults who had left their home had visited a park or public green space, with 36% of these saying they had met with family or friends from outside their household

  • 36% of adults in employment said they had left their home to travel to and from work in the past 7 days, a similar level to last week

  • 29% of adults said they felt unsafe or very unsafe when outside their home, compared with 41% the previous week

  • 29% of adults said they had used face coverings outside their home, most commonly whilst shopping

Covid-19 Social Study: Results Release 10, University College London. Report.


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