Our issues index, which has tracked the most important issues facing the country since 1974, shows that trade unions/strikes have not been considered a major issue for many years, and this remains true at the start of this month. As the below chart shows, this issue has declined markedly since the industrial unrest of the 1970s and is currently almost a non-existent issue. During the winter of discontent in 1978-79, it was the most important issue facing the country; mentioned by close to three quarters (73%) of the public. It returned briefly to prominence during the miners strike in October 1984 when it was cited by two fifths (41%) However, since then, it has disappeared from view, only once topping the 10% mark around the time of the firefighters strike.
Of course, this indicator is closely linked to the prevalence of nationwide industrial action, but it is also useful to note that over the same period our veracity index (which has tracked trust in different professions since 1983), has shown in increase in public trust of trade union officials over time. In 1983, only 18% of the public trusted trade union officials to tell the truth; in 2008 that figure was closer to half (45%).
However, with the recent emphasis on pay restraints, job cuts in both the public and private sectors, and the action threatened at the TUC conference, it will be fascinating to track concern about this issue during, and beyond, October's spending review.
For now, however, and as has been the case for two years, the economy remains the issue of most concern, mentioned by 57% of the public, though it has declined by four percentage points since August. Race relations/immigration is the second most important issue facing the country, mentioned by more than three in ten, and a quarter place unemployment (26%) and crime (24%) as among the most important issues.
Two key public service areas, health and education, are further down the list, mentioned by fewer than a fifth (19% and 18% respectively). As The Economist discussed in an article last week, it may be that the coalition's efforts to invest in these two areas are paying off (in that the public are less concerned about them), but it may also mean that they need to redirect their policy focus in accordance with the public's priorities.
Only 4% place pollution/environment amongst the top issues facing the country, the lowest percentage to do so in over five years.
Ipsos MORI's Issues Index is conducted monthly and provides an overview of the key issues concerning the country. Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative quota sample of 978 adults aged 18+ across Great Britain. The questions are spontaneous - i.e. respondents are not prompted with any answers. Ipsos MORI's Capibus vehicle was used for this survey. Interviews were conducted face-to-face in-home between 3th-9th September 2010 at 161 sampling points across Great Britain. Data are weighted to match the profile of the population.