The final report from the UK’s biggest-ever public survey of what unites and divides us – and what could bring us together as we emerge from the Covid crisis – finds a society that pulled together, not apart, in response to the pandemic.
The Talk/together report, Our chance to reconnect, finds evidence of stronger connections within neighbourhoods and communities, with millions of new volunteers keen to step up again. If this positive legacy is built upon, this could help drive a step-change in social connection once the country emerges from the pandemic.
With nearly 160,000 people involved in Talk/Together, over a nine-month period of enormous volatility and change, the report offers an authoritative picture of the state of the country and the society that we aspire to be. An online survey received almost 80,000 responses; there were five waves of nationally-representative ICM research with a total sample of over 10,000 people; and online groups involved nearly 300 people from every region and nation of the UK in in-depth discussions. Partner organisations in the /Together coalition supplied evidence from surveys, online events and other research involving another 68,000 respondents. British Future co-ordinated this research for the /Together coalition.
What is perhaps most striking about the findings – particularly when one considers how divided society felt as we entered 2020 – is the extent to which people felt the pandemic demonstrated the unity of our society rather than its divisions.
- Three times as many people say Covid has made their local community more united (41%) than say it’s become more divided (13%).
- Twice as many people agree that our response to the coronavirus crisis has shown the unity of our society more than its divides (50%) than disagree (27%).
- 12.4 million adults volunteered during the pandemic, of whom 4.6 million were first-time volunteers, with 3.8 million of this group interested in volunteering again.
- Three-quarters of people (73%) say they would like our society to be closer and more connected in the future. Most people (54%) would get involved if a street party was being organised on their street.
Participants also talked about divisions in society and their fears for the future. There were concerns, in particular, that divides between rich and poor could widen as the UK enters a period of economic uncertainty. The pandemic also exposed existing fissures by geography, age, identity, ethnicity and faith. At the same time, some past divides appear to be fading, with three-quarters of people no longer defining their political identity in terms of their vote in the EU referendum.
Yet the research also found that divides over Brexit have faded, with referendum identities once again mattering less than party politics. Only a quarter of people now see their political identity through a Brexit lens – a group almost evenly split between Remainers (13%) and Leavers (12%) – as Together found when ICM asked people to choose the political identity that matters most to them. Half of the public say that they hold a primary political identity that is not about Brexit – most often a party political identity, or as supporters or opponents of independence or the Union in different parts of the UK. And a fifth of people (21%) do not identify with a political position or cause at all. Views may be largely unchanged as to whether Brexit was a good or bad decision – but three quarters of the public no longer define their identity by their referendum vote.
What Talk/together uncovers is a society at a crossroads: one where significant divisions do exist, but also where there is an appetite for that to change and a recent experience of what it feels like to be more connected. In the future, divisions could re-emerge or become deeper; or they could be bridged by a new appreciation of what we have in common. The legacy of COVID-19 could be one of growing isolation and distance from each other; or it could be a commitment to use the community spirit of 2020 as a foundation on which to build a better future.
The report is published by the Together Coalition, of which British Future is a founding member.