NEWS29 October 2021

MPs more concerned than public about government U-turns

News Public Sector UK

UK – Ipsos Mori research conducted in association with the charity Sense about Science shows that many MPs believe that when the government changes its course of action, people lose confidence in its use of evidence.

Person filling in paper survey

However, another survey found that the public are just as likely to say that such changes of course make them more confident as make them lose confidence.

The surveys, which looked at the attitudes of MPs and the public to the way evidence is used to make decisions in a time of crisis, found that where 43% of MPs are more likely to agree that a change in course makes the public lose rather than gain confidence in the way the government uses evidence, just a third of the public agree that this applies to them ( 33%) while a similar proportion ( 34%) say it makes them more confident.

The survey also found a difference between MPs and the public over whether it’s better to wait until all of the evidence is available before acting: six in 10 MPs ( 62%) think that it is better to act quickly, even if all the evidence is not yet available, whereas the public are evenly divided ( 38% prefer to act quickly, but 36% to wait for the evidence to be complete).

But their attitudes were similar on the importance of the public being able to see all of the evidence used to inform government actions in times of crisis: more than 6 in 10 of both agreed with this ( 67% of MPs and 62% of the public).

Other findings from the survey include the fact that older people ( 55-75 ) are more inclined to favour acting quickly even if the evidence is not available ( 49%), compared to 36% of those aged between 18 and 34.

Sense about Science initiated Evidence Week in Parliament in 2018; it is held in partnership with the House of Commons Library and POST and opens on Monday 1st November with constituents questioning the chairs of select committees and other MPs about the way that parliament is using and scrutinising evidence in policy. It offers MPs rapid-fire briefings with leading UK researchers on the cutting-edge research that will help MPs to interrogate evidence for important issues and decisions.

Tracey Brown, director of Sense about Science, said: “The past year has shown starkly the importance for Parliament of understanding evidence. Covid-19 is just one issue on an evidence-heavy agenda that sees MPs looking at conflicting models of hospital numbers in the morning and debating post-Brexit food safety rules in the afternoon. Parliament acts both to scrutinise decisions for voters and as a warning system for how those decisions are affecting the country.”