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The three groups reacting to life under lockdown

The UK is made up of three broad but distinct groups who are responding in different ways

social distancing - news

New King’s College London analysis of an Ipsos MORI survey conducted in early April reveals that the UK population is made up of three broad but distinct groups of people who are responding to coronavirus and the lockdown measures in very different ways:

“The Accepting” (48% of the UK):

  • Just 12% of this group say they’re losing sleep over coronavirus.
  • Very few are arguing more with people they live with (6%) or feeling more anxious and depressed since lockdown began (8%).
  • 28% say they’re certain, very or fairly likely to face financial difficulties – the lowest of all the groups.
  • Least likely to check social media daily or more often for coronavirus updates, with 48% doing so.
  • 91% and 83% support lockdown measures and additional police powers respectively.
  • 87% say they’re following lockdown rules completely or nearly all the time.

“The Suffering” (44%):

  • 93% of this group report feeling more anxious and depressed since lockdown began.
  • 64% have slept less or worse than usual, the highest of the groups
  • 34% say they think about coronavirus all the time.
  • 64% check social media for updates on coronavirus daily or more frequently.
  • 93% and 85% support lockdown measures and additional police powers respectively.
  • 93% say they’re following lockdown rules completely or nearly all the time.

“The Resisting” (9%):

  • Just 49% say they’re following lockdown rules completely or nearly all the time – much lower than the other groups.
  • Just 53% and 49% support lockdown measures and additional police powers respectively.
  • Much less likely to be following official guidance, such as staying two metres away from others outside: 73% are doing this, compared with 94% of the Accepting and 99% of the Suffering.
  • And much more likely to be adopting measures that are not recommended, such as drinking ginger tea (55%) and using homeopathic remedies (50%).
  • 58% think “too much fuss is being made about the risk of coronavirus”, compared with only 14% of the UK population as a whole.
  • High proportions believe claims that are false or currently judged to be unlikely, such as that coronavirus was created in a lab (49%).
  • This group is also the most likely to expect significant personal financial impact from the crisis (65%), which may help explain their resistance to the measures.

The analysis is based on the findings of a survey of 2,250 UK residents aged 16 to 75 from 1 to 3 April, conducted by Ipsos MORI. Note this was prior to the recent government indications that the social distancing measures will continue for many more months.

View the full report for charts and detailed analysis >

The three groups encompass a range of characteristics, as well as behaviours, attitudes, perceptions and expectations relating to the coronavirus crisis.

Age and gender

  • 16- to 24-year-olds are most likely to be resisting (46% of the group), while 55- to 75-year-olds are most likely to be accepting (41%).

  • By 64% to 36%, women make up the majority of those suffering. Men are more likely to be accepting (59% vs 41%) and resisting (64% vs 36%).

Compliance with lockdown measures and official guidance

  • The Suffering are most likely to be complying with the lockdown measures completely or nearly all the time (93%), and to be following official guidance such as washing their hands more often, for 20 seconds (97%), and staying 2m apart from people outside (99%). The Accepting have slightly lower – although still very high – levels of compliance.

  • By contrast, just 49% of the Resisting say they’re following the lockdown rules to this extent, and are less likely to follow official guidance: 78% are washing their hands more frequently and longer, and 73% are observing the 2m distance rule.

  • Those resisting are instead more likely to be taking steps that are not part of official advice, such as taking herbal supplements (60%), drinking ginger tea (55%) and using homeopathic remedies (50%). The proportions of the other groups doing these three things is much lower, at 7% or under.

  • 41% of the Resisting say they have met up with friends or family outside their home – around 10 times higher than the other groups. And 35% say they have gone to work or outside despite having coronavirus-like symptoms – roughly 17 times higher than the other groups.

How they are coping

  • The overwhelming majority – 93% – of those suffering report being more anxious and depressed than usual. A majority (52%) of the Resisting report feeling the same, but this falls to just 8% among the Accepting.

  • 64% of the Suffering have experienced sleep problems, while 54% of the Resisting and just 12% of the Accepting have.

  • The Resisting are more likely to be engaging in unhealthy activities since the lockdown began:

    • 44% have used non-prescription drugs to deal with stress or anxiety, compared with just 6% of the Suffering and 1% of the Accepting.

    • 39% have drunk more alcohol than they normally would, versus 23% of the Suffering and 12% of the Accepting.

  • Among the Accepting, there has been comparatively little change in these kinds of behaviour – although one in five (20%) report eating more food or less healthy food than usual.

  • 51% of the Resisting have argued more with people they live with, and 35% have contacted a counselling or support service.

  • 36% of the Resisting say they are already finding the lockdown measures extremely difficult to cope with, compared with 22% and 6% among the Suffering and Accepting respectively.

  • The Accepting are least likely to be checking social media daily or more often for coronavirus updates: 48% say they do, considerably lower than the 64% of the Suffering and 66% of the Resisting who do the same.

Views of the government’s response

  • 93% and 91% of the Suffering and the Accepting respectively support the lockdown measures, while just 53% of the Resisting do. Opinion is divided similarly across the three groups on support for additional police powers to enforce these measures.

  • The Accepting are most likely to trust the government to control the spread of coronavirus (73%), to trust the information provided by government (76%), and to say the government’s plan has responded well to the changing scientific information and situation (60%).

  • And just 35% of the Accepting think the government’s response to coronavirus has been confused and inconsistent, compared with 47% of the Suffering and 56% of the Resisting.

  • 70% of the Suffering think the government acted too slowly to control the spread of coronavirus, while 59% of the Resisting and 55% of the Accepting think the same.

  • 58% of the Resisting think “too much fuss is being made about the risk of coronavirus”, compared with just 10% of the Accepting and 7% of the Suffering.

Perceptions and misperceptions 

  • The Resisting are much more likely to be believe claims about coronavirus that are false or currently judged to be unlikely, often by a significant margin:

    • 49% think coronavirus was probably created in a laboratory, while 25% of the Suffering and 20% of the Accepting think the same.

    • 49% think sanitising hand gels are more effective than washing your hands with soap and water, compared with around 15% of the other groups.

Expectations of how the crisis will end

  • By a number of measures, the Resisting are most optimistic about a relatively quick end to the current crisis:

    • 33% expect life to return to normal in three months or less, three times greater than the 11% of the Suffering and the Accepting who expect the same.

    • 17% think we will be able to vaccinate the population against coronavirus within a month, compared with just 2% of the other groups who think the same.

    • 18% think schools will only stay closed for a month or less, while 5% of both the Suffering and the Resisting hold the same view.
  • 33% of the Resisting also expect the economy to start growing again in three months or less – by far the highest proportion of the three groups – even though they are significantly more likely to say they will experience financial problems themselves:

    • 69% say they are certain, very or fairly likely to lose their jobs as a result of coronavirus disruption, compared with 26% among the Suffering and 16% among the Accepting.

    • 65% say they are certain, very or fairly likely to face financial difficulties, while 47% of the Suffering and 28% of the Accepting say the same.

Professor Bobby Duffy, Director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London, said:

“The analysis shows the variety of views among different groups of the UK population and the different impacts on them. The large bulk of the population are fully behind the measures, but even within this group there are clear dividing lines between those who are coping pretty well and those who are really suffering. Nearly all of this suffering group have felt more anxious and depressed, and six in 10 are losing sleep.

“There are also a small minority, around one in 11, who are much less supportive of the measures, and much more likely to hold spurious beliefs, including that the virus was created in a lab, and to have taken ineffective responses such as ginger tea. This resisting group are also the most likely to feel at threat from the financial and job impacts of the virus, which may also explain their wishful thinking that too much fuss is being made and that the crisis will be over soon.”

Dr Daniel Allington, Senior Lecturer in Social and Cultural Artificial Intelligence at King’s College London, said:

“Although the great majority of UK residents are acting very responsibly, this doesn’t mean that we’re all feeling fine. The measures being taken to combat coronavirus are much tougher on some people than they are on others, and it is clear that the overall situation is taking a heavy toll on large numbers of people – many of whom may find themselves in urgent need of support as the lockdown and the pandemic drag on. Moreover, there are some people who don’t seem to see the need for the measures currently being taken, and as a result appear reluctant to follow the rules. Communication with the latter group will be very important, to help them understand why these measures are necessary, and to correct the dangerous misinformation that is circulating on social media.”

View the full report for charts and detailed analysis >

Technical details
The study categorises members of the population according how they are responding to the coronavirus crisis and lockdown measures. The three groups – or clusters” – of the UK population have been identified using a statistical technique called k-means clustering, using R v. 3.6.1. Variables used for clustering purposes included answers to all questions concerning attitudes, behaviours, expectations, and feelings with regard to the coronavirus and the official response, including compliance with and support for measures such as social distancing and hand-washing. Demographic information, voting history, and questions used to assess knowledge of the coronavirus and the official response were not used for clustering purposes. However, once the clusters were identified, these variables were used to supplement the analysis of the clusters themselves.

For the survey on which this cluster analysis is based, Ipsos MORI interviewed a sample of 2,250 adults aged 16-75 in the United Kingdom using its online i:omnibus between 1 and 3 April 2020. Data has been weighted to the known offline population proportions for age within gender, government office region, working status, social grade and education. All surveys are subject to a range of potential sources of error.