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Scottish social attitudes survey 2021/22: Attitudes to Scotland's handling of the pandemic

Findings from the Scottish Government funded Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2021/22 ‘Attitudes to Scotland’s Handling of the Pandemic’ module.


Chapter 5 – Conclusions

The aims of this module of questions on the Scottish Social Attitudes 2021/22 survey were to explore public views on how key policy decisions were communicated during the pandemic, the relationship between data and trust and how prepared Scotland would be for another pandemic. In particular, it was also of value to explore how these views may have differed among different groups of people in society. This information was collected and analysed with a view to informing the Scottish Government’s on-going planning around future pandemic response.

The public reported high levels of trust in the data made available during the pandemic (67%), particularly in relation to the information provided by scientists which around four-fifths of people (81%) trusted ‘just about always/most of time’. While trust was higher for information provided by scientists, just under three-quarters (74%) of people trusted information from the Scottish Government ‘just about always/most of time’.

People were more likely to feel that decisions made in Scotland during the pandemic were driven by an approprtiate amount by scientific evidence than by the views of the public. Whilst 61% felt that the influence of the public on decision making was ‘about right,’ a higher proportion (72%) felt the same about the level of reliance on evidence provided by scientists. Just under a fifth felt that there was too little (18%) or too much (16%) reliance on the views of the public. There were associations here with demographic variables and life circumstances, rather than trust in others/social support. Nearly a quarter (24%) of those aged 16-24 felt the decisions made were influenced ‘far/somewhat too much’ by the public (compared with 10% aged 65+), as did the same proportion of those who had tested positive for coronavirus (24% compared with 13% who did not think they had ever had it).

A common thread throughout this report is the association between attitudes towards the handling of the pandemic and personal feelings of trust in others and experience of social support. One or both of these factors were related to almost all of the attitudes measured - from trust in the data provided, to how well people’s views were taken into account and how prepared Scotland would be for another pandemic.

There were some associations between sub-groups and how well people feel that the Scottish Government took their views into account and appreciated the impact of the restrictions on them during the pandemic. However, very few demographic sub-group differences were seen in relation to trust in the data provided during the pandemic, views on the extent to which decisions were informed by scientific evidence and perceptions of Scotland’s preparedness for another pandemic.

It appears that views on how well Scotland handled the pandemic (including feelings of trust in the information provided and that people’s needs were taken into account) and confidence in its preparedness for another pandemic, are inextricably linked to overall trust in other people and levels of social support. Those who felt that most people could be trusted and that they had others in their area to turn to for support, were more likely to trust the information provided during the pandemic, by scientists and the Scottish Government. They were also more likely to feel that the Scottish Government understood the impact of restrictions and that they had their best interests at heart.

Whether someone had previously tested positive for coronavirus was related to their views on trust in the information provided and how well the pandemic was handled. They were more likely to trust the information provided by scientists just about ‘always/most of the time’ (87%) than those who had not had coronavirus (71%). They were also more likely to feel that decisions made during the pandemic were influenced ‘far/somewhat too much’ by the views of the public (24% compared with 13% among those who had not had coronavirus).

Perceptions among the public of how well the Scottish Government had considered and understood the impact of the pandemic on their lives was generally high. The majority felt that the Scottish Government understood the impact of the restrictions on people like them ‘very/fairly well’ (65%) while six in ten (60%) were of the opinion that the Scottish Government had their interests at heart ‘a great deal/quite a lot’. The proportion who believed that the Scottish Government had been ‘very/fairly good’ at listening to the views of the people about how best to handle the pandemic was lower at 44%. While it is not completely clear why this may be the case, it may be related to the difference between ‘listening’ and having ‘someone’s interests at heart’. For instance, listening may be viewed as an active process, requiring more effort and investment than simply considering someone’s best interests. It could be that the majority believed that the Scottish Government was taking actions according to what they considered to be right for the people of Scotland but they did not necessarily agree with all the actions being taken. For example, the public might not have wanted to have their movements restricted but may have understood the reasoning behind such measures. This may explain why the percentage of people who felt the Scottish Government considered their interests was higher than the percentage of people who felt they were good at listening. Qualitative research to explore these attitudes in-depth may be beneficial in informing Scottish Government policy and planning for future pandemics.

Similarly, views on whether the Scottish Government made its decisions regardless of ‘what people like yourself wanted’ shows a more negative view (with 52% saying ‘just about always/most of the time’) compared with responses to whether the Scottish Government had ‘the interest of people like yourself at heart’ and whether they understood the impact of restrictions on people’s lives. Again this might be because the public felt that the Scottish Government was making decisions with their best interests at heart but that they did not necessarily want those decisions to be made, with the example above relating to views on restrictions being once again applicable.

As well as those with higher levels of trust in others and social support there were other sub-groups that tended to feel more positive about how effectively the Scottish Government understood the impact of restrictions on them and listened to their views during the pandemic. Those aged 65 and over were most likely to think that the Scottish Government had been ‘very good’ at listening to their views (21%) compared with 9% among those aged 35-54. Similarly, those in the older age groups were more likely to feel that the Scottish Government had their interests at heart when making decisions (42-28% compared with 23% of those in the youngest age group). This may seem a little at odds with the finding that those in the youngest age group were more likely, than older counterparts, to feel decisions made were influenced too much by the public. This possibly suggests that younger adults were more likely to feel that the views of the public in general were taken into account too much but that the personal experiences of their age group were overlooked.

Women were more likely (70%) than men (59%) to believe that the Scottish Government understood the impact of the restrictions on people like them. This may be related to gender differences in experiences of the pandemic, adherence to public health guidelines and belief in the importance of such guidelines. Those living in rural areas (65%) were more likely than those living in urban areas (57%) to think that the Scottish Government had the interest of people like them at heart when making decisions. It may be that age differences were the driver of this association given the demographic of people living in rural areas and that those in older age groups were also more likely to feel that the Scottish Government had their interests at heart.[28] The difference in views may also relate to those in urban areas experiencing more severe/prolonged restrictions due to a higher volume of positive cases of coronavirus in such areas and due to factors impacting on housing and healthcare, and the impacts of crime and violence.[29] However, there is also evidence that those living in rural areas may have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic in certain ways such as loneliness and disruption in access to healthcare; which would be expected to have affected their perceptions of the pandemic. [30]

The majority (68%) felt either ‘very or fairly confident’ that Scotland would be properly prepared to deal with another pandemic, whilst 31% felt ‘not very or not at all confident’ in this. Several key drivers were found to be influential with regards to confidence in relation to Scotland’s preparedness to handle another pandemic, most notably party political affiliation. The odds of people saying that they are ‘not very/at all confident’ in Scotland’s readiness for another pandemic were higher among Conservative and Labour supporters than SNP supporters. In line with this, odds of having lower confidence were also higher among those with less favourable views on how well the Scottish Government listen to people and whether they have their best interests at heart, as well as among men and those who disagreed to any extent that they had others in their area to turn to for support.

The findings overall suggest that whilst the majority of the public felt that they trust the information provided in Scotland during the pandemic, felt their views were taken into account and felt fairly positive about Scotland’s preparedness for future pandemics, there were signficant differences in perceptions across sub-groups. Those who felt less trusting of others in general, and those who were experiencing lower levels of social support, were less likely to feel their views were taken into account and less trusting in the information provided. Younger adults and men were less likely to feel that their views were taken into account as were those living in urban areas. Further research may be valuable to explore the intersection between these sub-group differences.

These differential views of how effectively the pandemic was handled in Scotland have important implications for planning for future pandemics. In particular, the need to engage with and take into account a diverse range of needs and experiences.

Contact

Email: socialresearch@gov.scot

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