Majority of public want to keep some lockdown changes, poll finds

By agency reporter
April 20, 2020

Social and environmental changes seen during lockdown – including people valuing food more and noticing cleaner air – should guide future policy, experts urge, as a new poll reveals only nine per cent of British people want a total return to “normal” after lockdown.

The survey was commissioned by the RSA's Food, Farming and Countryside Commission (FFCC), together with food charity The Food Foundation. 

The poll finds a clear majority (85 per cent) want to see at least some of the personal or social changes they have experienced continue afterwards, while just nine per cent want a complete to return to normal.

It also identifies significant changes to our relationship with food, family and the environment:

  • 51 per cent say they have noticed cleaner air, and 27 per cent more wildlife, since the lockdown began
  • Social bonds are stronger, with 40 per cent feeling a stronger sense of local community and 39 per cent more in touch with friends and family
  • 42 per cent say the outbreak has made them value food more, and one in ten have shared something like food or shopping with a neighbour for the first time
  • More than 19 million of us (38 per cent) say they are cooking more from scratch and 17 million are throwing away less food (33 per cent). six per cent, or 3 million people, have tried a vegetable box scheme or ordered food from a local farm for the very first time
  • But although  nineper cent feel fitter and 27 per cent are getting more exercise, more people (36 per cent) say they are getting less exercise than before.

The RSA's FFCC commissioned the poll as part of its work to shape a new vision and an action plan for more sustainable food and farming, land use and the rural economy. It follows on from research funded by FFCC and the Food Foundation released over Easter, which shows a sharp rise in food insecurity during lockdown.  

Sue Pritchard, Director of the RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, said: “It’s taken a pandemic to reveal just how fragile our food system is.

“Anyone in the food industry is now a key worker. National food security is a government priority. Yet while many people are going hungry, our dairy farmers can’t sell their milk, and healthy vegetables are left unharvested in the field. This research is showing that important changes are starting to take hold which government must use to guide future policy.”

Professor Tom MacMillan from the Royal Agricultural University, and research lead for the RSA's Commission, said: “This data shows there is a real appetite for change, and for the nation to learn from this crisis. People are trying new things and noticing differences, at home, in their work and in communities. This is really apparent when it comes to food, farming and the countryside, the issues the Commission is focused on, but clear in other areas too.

"Alongside the emergency response, it is important keep track of these changes in what we’re doing and our collective mood, to help shape the kind of country we want to be, including the way want to feed ourselves, when we recover from this pandemic.”

Anna Taylor, Executive Director of the Food Foundation, said: “The same poll that revealed this appetite for social change highlighted an alarming and worsening food insecurity crisis, with three million in Britain going hungry since lockdown began. These figures create an imperative for reshaping the food system post-COVID-19 so that it delivers healthy diets for everyone, regardless of how much they earn.”

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA, said: "The lockdown is far from over and it’s right that the immediate emergency is the priority, but two things are important to note: firstly that the end of lockdown is ever more likely to be phase than a single event, which will take time to pass; and secondly that, amid the awful news and general doom, we must use this time to imagine a better future. This poll shows that the British people are increasingly aware that the health of people and planet are inseparable and it’s time for radical environmental, social, political and economic change.”

* The RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) is an independent charity which believes in a world where everyone is able to participate in creating a better future. https://www.thersa.org/

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