The purpose was to explore public understanding of the challenges facing Britain today and learn more about how these challenges are discussed. Across the groups there was a strong feeling of pessimism, with participants reflecting on a large number of challenges facing the country, including a sense of division. Participants struggled to articulate what was going well in Britain, explaining that as a country we are going in the wrong direction.
Although Brexit was seen as important, there was little appetite to discuss it. Instead participants wanted to discuss wider themes such as the health service, education and policing. There was broad consensus that the challenges facing these public services were the most important for the country.
Participants wanted to see changes to the decision making process in Britain, arguing for greater public involvement to find solutions. They discussed three challenges in more depth, identified in previous Engage Britain research: health and care, poverty and struggling families, and immigration.
One thing that could actually help change or move government in a different way is to actually have lay members of the public involved at all stages of creating legislation. That way they will find new or innovative ways to tackle a solution that perhaps they wouldn’t have thought of themselves.
Participant from Falkirk
Health and care
There was a clear and shared understanding of what health means, but less clarity around the definition of care. This was often associated with caring for each other and support in a community rather than specific public services. The future of health and care was identified spontaneously as a key challenge for Britain today. However, there was less agreement on how it could be tackled, with discussions covering themes beyond funding such as the structure of services, sharing good practice and local decision making.
Poverty and struggling families
Participants recognised that many people are struggling to afford the basics in Britain today. This was recognised as a challenge, with many participants feeling that the use of food banks and homelessness has risen in recent years. Discussions explored different language including the meaning of the term ‘poverty’. Participants preferred the phrase ‘struggling to afford the basics’, as they felt people would feel more comfortable using it to describe themselves.
Immigration was the most divisive of the three themes. This was something participants anticipated and they were cautious about discussing the topic. There was disagreement about what Britain’s priorities should be for a future immigration system. However, there was widespread (although not uniform) support for Britain having greater control over immigration. Control was often used as a way of talking about other factors such as skilled immigration and the fair treatment of refugees.
The research involved three workshops in Falkirk, Liverpool and Swansea, and four discussion groups in Peterborough and London. Fieldwork took place from 10th September - 8th October 2019. The materials used are provided below.
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