Chapter 1: Introduction
This report presents findings from the 2021/22 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey (SSA), conducted between October 2021 and March 2022. It focuses on attitudes to government, the economy and public services and seeks to address the following key questions:
- What attitudes towards government do people in Scotland currently hold, and how does this differ between different subgroups?
- Given the large-scale societal impact of the pandemic, what are people's current attitudes towards the health service, economy and standard of living in Scotland?
- What are the levels of both political engagement and social trust in Scotland today?
Political and constitutional context
Both a parliamentary election in 2021 and the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic provided the key political context for this year's report. Following on from the December 2019 UK election, in which the Conservative Party increased its overall majority and the SNP increased its seat share in Scotland, another Scottish parliamentary election was also held six months before fieldwork for this year of the survey began. The SNP won this election, increasing their number of seats by 1 to bring their total to 64.
For the last few years, UK and Scottish politics have also operated against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic. This unprecedented event highlighted how differences in decision-making between the UK and Scottish parliaments impact on people's everyday lives. Given that responsibility for public health in Scotland is devolved to the Scottish Government, with the emergence of the pandemic there was potential for policy divergence on a high-profile issue that affected the lives of all citizens of Scotland. While England moved out of the initial lockdown restrictions in May 2020 with government messaging shifting from 'Stay at Home' to 'Stay Alert', Scotland's rules remained largely unchanged. The law on face masks diverged between the two governments: the legal requirement to wear a face mask in public places changed to guidance in England around three months earlier than in Scotland. This divergence between nations in early public communications and beyond, enabled by devolutionary powers, demonstrated the complexities of Scotland acting autonomously within the context of UK-wide issues.
Since the previous Scottish Social Attitudes Survey in 2019, the Scottish economy has experienced periods of volatility and a succession of shocks. The UK's decision to leave the EU in 2016 resulted in significant economic uncertainty, which has impacted Scotland's opportunities for growth and business development in the years following the referendum. Going into the pandemic, economic growth in Scotland was relatively stable and had increased slightly from 0.8% in 2018 to 1% in 2019.
During the pandemic however, Scotland, much like the rest of the world, faced a particularly turbulent economic period. Scotland's annual GDP fell by 10.6% in 2020, and services, production, construction, and agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors all contracted in comparison to 2019. The economy started to recover in 2021, with Scotland's annual GDP increasing by 7.4%.
The pandemic also presented new challenges for the labour market in Scotland. The furlough scheme, introduced by the UK Government, was established to mitigate emerging economic issues by aiding the retention of jobs and earnings throughout various restrictions. The scheme supported 911,700 jobs in Scotland up to September 2021. The employment rate in April 2020 to March 2021 was estimated at 72.8%, lower than in April 2019 to March 2020 at 74.5% and below the UK rate of 74.7%. The unemployment rate for the same period was 4.6%, lower than the UK rate of 4.8%.
There were ongoing challenges for recruitment during this period: an imbalance between demand and supply of staff resulted in labour shortages affecting haulage, construction, tourism, hospitality and food and drink sectors. Scotland's unemployment rate was 4.1% by September 2021, having remained relatively stable throughout the year. The employment rate at the same time was 74.8%, up 0.6 percentage points over the quarter indicating a strengthening in the labour market as restrictions eased and Scotland came out of the pandemic.
Moving into 2022, the unemployment rate continued to fall to 3.1% and GDP was gradually recovering to pre-pandemic levels, helped by the vaccination programme (though with sectoral differences as tightened restrictions across the turn of the year continued to impact consumer facing services). The employment level in Scotland is 0.1% points down on its pre-pandemic level while the UK employment level is 1.1% points down. The labour market has been adjusting since the end of the furlough scheme in October 2021, with the aforementioned low level of unemployment and labour shortages continuing to emerge as the economy has been fully reopening.
However, the overall economic outlook has weakened since the start of the year. The war in Ukraine has resulted in an economic shock and exacerbated supply chain disruption, as well as increasing inflationary pressures.. In August, due to inflationary pressures, the Bank of England forecast the UK economy as a whole to enter recession at the end of 2022 and in 2023.
The National Health Service (NHS) in Scotland
The NHS in Scotland has experienced extreme pressures from dealing with the pandemic and has been operating on an emergency footing, with a backlog of treatments, a variety of workforce issues and an ongoing need to respond to coronavirus variants. Prior to 2020, the NHS was already facing increased demand on its services and was facing substantial financial pressures prior to the pandemic, which has only been exacerbated by the challenges presented by the pandemic.
These issues are reflected in decreased patient satisfaction with the NHS. In Scotland, 83% of people responded positively in 2018 when asked to rate the care provided by their GP, which dropped to 79% in 2020 and again to 67% in 2022. Additionally, 55% of doctors in Scotland responding to a Covid-19 impact survey in April 2020 felt that prioritising patients with coronavirus was worsening care for people with other healthcare needs, and 47% noted their biggest pandemic-related concern to be the longer-term impact on patient clinical demand.
How NHS Scotland staff rated their overall working experience remained relatively unchanged during the pandemic, although this varied significantly according to role and environment, with several national support boards (e.g. Healthcare Improvement Scotland and NHS Education for Scotland). experiencing a rise in staff ratings whilst many patient-facing boards noted a drop. In 2021, 73% of nursing staff in Scotland reported working over their contracted hours, 72% felt under too much pressure at work and 67% felt too busy to provide the level of care they would like. These are all higher than the 2019 figures of 70%, 60% and 60% respectively. These figures represent a continuing strain on the NHS in Scotland, felt by both staff and patients.
The Scottish Social Attitudes Survey has been run regularly by the Scottish Centre for Social Research since 1999. This report presents findings from the Scottish Government 'core' module of questions concerning public attitudes to government, the NHS, the economy and living standards.
This module has been funded by the Scottish Government since 2004. SSA has tracked attitudes to government and public services since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament and throughout the past 23 years which has seen constitutional changes, the economic downturn of 2008, the UK's exit from the EU and the coronavirus pandemic.
Previously SSA has been administered face-to-face and for the first time this year, the survey was conducted as a telephone survey, as a result of coronavirus restrictions in place at the time of fieldwork. As in previous years, a random sample of all those aged 16 and over living anywhere in Scotland (including the Highlands and Islands) were interviewed. Fieldwork for SSA 2021/22 began on 21st October 2021 and ceased on 27th March 2022.
Letter invitations to take part were issued to 21,775 addresses, of which 1349 households opted-in and 1043 provided at least one interview. A maximum of two adults per household were invited to take part in the survey, which is different to previous years where only one adult per household could take part. A total of 1130 interviews were achieved in total. Assuming 10% of addresses were vacant, derelict or ineligible for other reasons, these figures equate to an opt-in rate of 7% and a response rate among opted-in households of 77%. Data are weighted in order to correct for non-response bias and differential selection probabilities due to deliberate over-sampling of rural areas and those living in the most deprived areas, and to ensure that they reflect the age-sex profile of the Scottish population. Technical details about the survey are published in a separate Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2021/22 Technical Report, available at https://www.gov.scot/collections/scottish-social-attitudes-survey/.
The telephone approach in 2021/22 differs from the usual face-to-face survey method in a number of ways which are likely to impact the responses received and so affect comparability with previous SSA data. The survey was last conducted face-to-face in 2019, which marked the 20th anniversary of SSA. The most recent time series analysis for attitudes to government, the economy and the health service is available in the 2019 report, accessible online.
Due to the change in methodology, the analysis in this report focusses on attitudes and factors impacting on attitudes in 2021/22, rather than any long-term changes over time. This decision was made as a result of analysis conducted on the achieved representativeness of the sample against the Scottish population as outlined in the Technical Report.
Most of the statistics presented in this report show the percentage of respondents who selected particular answer options. All percentages cited in this report are based on the weighted data and are rounded to the nearest whole number. A percentage may be quoted in the text for a single category that aggregates two or more of the percentages shown in a table. The percentage for the single category may, because of rounding, differ by one percentage point from the sum of the percentages in the table. Differences between figures shown in the tables are calculated using unrounded figures and may differ from the rounded figures shown in the text.
A new variable measuring respondent's assessment of Scotland's handling of the pandemic was introduced in the Core Module this year. This was a derived variable constructed from seven questions used on the pandemic handling module of SSA 2021/22. The resulting scale was divided into 3 groups: 'positive', 'neutral' and 'negative' assessments of Scotland's handling of the pandemic. Further details of the construction of the variable can be found in the accompanying Technical Report.
All differences described in the text (between different groups of people) are statistically significant at the 95% level or above, unless otherwise specified. This means that the probability of having found a difference of at least this size, if there was no actual difference in the population, is 5% or less. The term 'significant' is used in this report to refer to statistical significance; this is not intended to imply substantive importance. Further details of significance testing and analysis are included in the separate technical report and full data tables are available as 'supporting files' to this publication.
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