Public not clear about Government advice on socialising, work and travel

New survey research suggest that Government advice lacks clarity on easing of lockdown. The results are part of a wider project on behalf of Future Care Capital that will assess the success of government communication on social media during the pandemic.

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  • Steven Ginnis Public Affairs
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Public not clear about Government advice on socialising, work and travel 

  • New Ipsos MORI research conducted on behalf of Future Care Capital shows that many of the UK public are not clear on advice related to work, travel and socialising – all key issues as lockdown eases
  • The research also shows a lukewarm reception to the presentation of data by government, including mixed understanding of the ‘R’ rate; and suggest the need for a clear strategy on how to help the public assess local risk. 
  • The survey findings are part of a wider project that will assess the success of government communication on social media during the pandemic. 

Communications strategy not clear for all as we leave lockdown

The survey research conducted at the end of June show that whilst the majority feel that government communications have been clear on initial clinical advice, there is much less clarity on key restrictions for work, travel and social activities. Though as many as 84% feel the communication on COVID-19 symptoms was clear, and 83% feel clear on when to self-isolate, this falls to 59% who feel clear on who you can socialise with, 56% on how to work safely and 54% on where you can travel to.

Across all of these messages, younger age groups are less clear on the messages delivered by government. The proportion of those aged 16-24 who feel communications have been clear is consistently at least 11 percentage points lower compared to those aged 55-75. On average, 62% of those aged 16-24 feel information has been clear, this rises on average to 76% among those aged 55-75. 

Mixed feedback on the relevance and use of data such as R to help public understand local risks

Having been presented a wealth of information on infection rates, deaths, rate of transmission and hospital capacity during regular briefings, the survey suggests that the public are lukewarm about the value and presentation of data by government. 

Though the public are more positive than negative, only 55% agree that the types of data presented regularly by government have been useful, and 49% feel this information is relevant to them. There is a degree of scepticism over the accuracy of data 46% trust the information to be accurate compared to 28% who disagree.   

The research found that although as many as 83% of the public say they have heard of the term ‘R’. When including those who have never heard of ‘R’, only 54% of all adults felt they had a good understanding and could explain its value to someone else if asked. Furthermore, only 23% agreed that they regularly sought information about local transmission rates in their area. 

The government has recently produced and put in to the public domain data about local levels of risk; yet, this study would suggest that there is ground to make up to help provide the public with relevant information that will be widely engaged with and well understood.   

Quote from Annemarie Naylor, Director of Policy and Strategy at Future Care Capital

Public health messages need to be communicated with great care as lockdown eases. Our polling shows that people are not clear on the Government’s advice about key issues such as advice on work, travel and socializing. It also shows that responses vary by age group and that younger people are less clear about the rules than older age groups. 

In order to manage the risks associated with loosening the lockdown and be ready to respond to local flare ups, it is vital that public health messages convey important advice and, where appropriate, instructions in a consistent and readily accessible manner. In particular, we’d like the Government to take steps to ensure young people are better informed about the risks the virus poses and made aware of changing rules as they enjoy the summer with friends and get ready for education, work or whatever the autumn holds for them. It is vital that the Government learns lessons about the efficacy of public health messaging from the past six months, so that it can make adjustments and improvements ahead of a possible second wave in the autumn.

Using social media to better understand public health messages and the wider impact of the pandemic

Alongside a more representative survey, a wider exploratory project will review social media posts to better understand how recipients of health and social care in the UK have been impacted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The project has two aims:

  1. Firstly to judge the performance of government communications strategy through social media, exploring the extent to which public social media discussion has reflected key announcements and which public health messages have gained the most traction on social media. 
  2. Secondly to assess the impact of the pandemic as told on social media, exploring conversations amongst health and social care professionals about the key challenges and opportunities, and the implications of the pandemic for the mental and physical health of the public. 

The project has already collected over 3,500,000 relevant posts between 1st February and 30th June 2020. It will integrate use of a range of analysis techniques, combining machine learning, statistical modelling, manual coding and analysis of internet search behaviour. Full results will be available in September 2020. 

Quote from Steven Ginnis, Research Director, Ipsos MORI

Social media has been a key comms battleground during the pandemic, as the public grapple with which information and advice to trust. It therefore also provides a useful tool for both measuring the success and impact of key public health announcements, and for providing a first hand account of the UK’s lived experience. Our project will identify which public health messages have high traction and volume of discussion, have yielded positive reinforcement, and have been well understood; and on the flip side, which others have failed to resonate, be taken seriously or caused confusion. 

Technical note:

  • Survey data taken from an online survey of 1,105 adults aged 16-75 in the UK.  Fieldwork was conducted 26th – 29th June 2020.  Data are weighted to the profile of the population by age, gender, social grade and region.
  • When asked about their views towards the data published by government, NHS and Public Health England, respondents were shown four examples of charts and slides used at daily briefings or published online. These included presentation of death rates, estimated number of people with COVID-19, people in hospital with COVID-19 and weekly surveillance report on number and results of tests issued by the Government
     

The author(s)

  • Steven Ginnis Public Affairs

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