UK's national unity created by lockdown 'beginning to fray', study warns

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Medical staff outside the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital taking part in Clap for Carers in May. (PA)
Medical staff outside the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital taking part in Clap for Carers in May. (PA)

The lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic helped foster an increased sense of unity among the British public but it is now beginning to fray, a new report has claimed.

A poll published on Thursday suggests people felt the nation was less divided as coronavirus swept across the UK, helping to heal some of the divides caused by Brexit.

The report involved several interviews and polls with over 2000 people by ICM in March and again in May/June.

In March, 60% of people agreed that "the UK has never felt so divided in my lifetime", but fell to just 45% of in May/June.

The report found significant national events, such as Clap for Carers, the Black Lives Matter protests, and the row over Dominic Cummings, all had an impact on public unity and enthusiasm for conforming to the lockdown.

People join the nationwide 'Clap for Carers' on April 16, 2020. (AP)
People join the nationwide Clap for Carers on 16 April. (AP)

Clap for Carers was seen by many as a symbol of national unity during the pandemic and an estimated 69% of the British population took part at some point.

In the first survey carried out in March 34% of people said that had felt part of something locally in the last six months, this increased to 41% in the May/June survey.

Unity and faith in the government took a hit when it emerged Boris Johnson’s chief advisor drove to Durham when he and his wife had coronavirus symptoms during the height of the lockdown.

The report noted that during the research people became “notably angrier when describing politicians” after the controversy emerged.

The research found most people disapproved of Cumming’s actions regardless of their political leanings.

Jill Rutter, author of the report and director of strategy for British Future, said: “There’s a risk that past divides are re-emerging as society starts to reopen.

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"The shared experience of lockdown made many people feel more connected to their neighbours and local community. Now that sense of togetherness is starting to fray.

"The good news is that people would rather we kept hold of it."

The research found that the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 20 led to broad support to tackling racial inequalities across the world, but some were concerned about the impact on public health and violence towards police caused by the protests.

With the worst of the pandemic now behind us, the report found previous division were beginning to re-emerge as different parts of the society suffered from different aspects from the fallout of the pandemic.

The report found that older people who are more vulnerable to the virus were still highly concerned about their health, but younger people had become more concerned about how the economic impact will affect them.

“Intergenerational division was also a prominent issue in the discussions. Young people were perceived as less willing to observe lockdown – an observation made by people of all ages,” the report noted.

Some 70% of those polled in March said "as a society, we tend to dwell on our differences rather than what we have in common", this view dropped to 61% in the later survey.

According to the report, the concern that some groups were not following the guidelines became an increasing point of division over time.

It added that divisions between rich and poor was a dominant theme in all discussions it carried out, with people believing the crisis would “disproportionately impact on the lives of poorer people”.

The report was carried out on behalf of the Together campaign, which includes the NHS, charities, and media groups and was the organisation that created the Clap for Carers movement.

Together said they planned on carrying on their research across the country in the coming months.

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