Levels of pessimism for future of NHS, policing and education highest for 15 years

Nearly two in three think that the quality of Britain's public services have got worse over the last five years, according to a new study from Ipsos MORI.

Levels of pessimism for future of NHS, policing and education highest for 15 years

The author(s)

  • Gideon Skinner Head of Political Research
  • Glenn Gottfried Ipsos Public Affairs, UK
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Nearly two in three think that the quality of public services have got worse over the last five years, according to a new study from Ipsos MORI. Meanwhile, pessimism for the future of the NHS, policing and education are at record levels.

Three in five (63%) think that public services have got worse over the last five years, compared with 43% who said the same in 2015 and 40% in 2012. In addition, the majority of the public (62%) disagree that in the long term, the government’s policies will improve the state of Britain’s public services.

There is also pessimism for the future of individual public services, with particular concern reported about the NHS. Today’s results reveal the highest ever number of people expecting health services to get worse since 2002, registering over three in five of the public for the first time (62%). Across other public services the public are generally more pessimistic than optimistic about the future, with concern in many cases higher than in previous years:

  • Police services – Since 2015 public perceptions of the future of the police services have got worse to their highest levels since 2002. Two in five (43%, compared with 35% in 2015) of the public think that the way their area is policed will get worse over the next few years, with just one in ten thinking it will improve (10% compared to 15% in 2015). A sizeable section of the public think that there will be no change (44%).
  • Education and skills
    • The public are more pessimistic about the future of education than they were in 2015, or indeed since 2002. (40% say that they think the quality of education will get worse over the next few years, compared with 32% in 2015). One in three (32%) expect things to stay the same, and 24% to get better.
    • Concern about the prospects for young people is also high - 47% say opportunities for young people will get worse over the coming years, although this is little changed since 2015 (45%).
    • The public are slightly less pessimistic about workforce skills with 33% expecting them to get worse (36% in 2015), 31% get better and 32% forecasting no change.
  • Public transport - Just one in five (19%) think public transport will get better in the next few years, a fall from 26% in 2015. Regional differences are seen as well, with those living in Greater London (37%) the most optimistic, while only one in ten (12%) think public transport will get better in the Midlands.
  • The environment – Two in five (38%) think that the quality of the environment will get worse over the next few years, the same proportion as 2015 (40%). One in three (35%) think it will stay the same, and 23% get better.

However, this does not necessarily mean that individuals feel like they have been affected personally by spending cuts. One in four (26%) say they and their family have been affected at least a fair amount by spending cuts. Similar figures were seen in 2016 (27%) and 2015 (23%), although there has been a fall in those who have not been affected, from 37% in 2015 to 29% now. Looking forward, 45% are concerned about the impact of future cuts on themselves and their family, similar to 2015 (46%).

There are however signs that people have become more worried about the impact of cuts on others. Half (51%) think the cuts to welfare and benefits have gone too far (a small increase from 47% in 2013), while there has been a fall in those who think the reductions in social welfare have been necessary, from 59% in 2013 to 45% this year.

Other survey findings suggest that people still expect significant cuts to come. People estimate, on average, that 37% of the government’s planned cuts have been implemented so far. This is higher than estimated in 2015 (28%), and in line with 2012 (40%). Londoners estimate that just 30% of cuts have been carried out so far, compared with individuals from Scotland who estimate that 41% of cuts have been carried out.

Gideon Skinner, Head of Political Research at Ipsos MORI, said:

“There are signs that the years of austerity may be reaching a tipping point, with record levels of concern about totemic public services such as the NHS, policing and education, and a fall in agreement that the cuts have been necessary. Having said all that, current satisfaction levels for many public services are holding up (although lower expectations may be playing a role), and most people still fell they have been little affected personally. Meanwhile, confidence in the government’s policies for public services is much lower than in its economic policies, but that isn’t stopping the Conservatives keeping a clear lead in people’s voting intentions.”

Technical note:

Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1,032 adults aged 18+ across Great Britain. Interviews were conducted by telephone 10th – 14th March 2017. Data are weighted to the profile of the population.

The author(s)

  • Gideon Skinner Head of Political Research
  • Glenn Gottfried Ipsos Public Affairs, UK

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