NEWS16 December 2021

Sense about Science launches inquiry into Covid-19 policy-making

Covid-19 News Public Sector UK

UK – Sense about Science and the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) has partnered on an inquiry into Covid-19, with early results showing public interest in government information on Covid-19 has waned, but over half of UK adults have been using government statistics and medical websites.


The proportion of the UK who reported being “very aware” of government Covid-19 information, guidelines and rules is 21 percentage points lower for the period since March 2021 than it was during the first six months of the pandemic, according to the study conducted for Sense about Science by NatCen.

The survey’s first results mark the opening of an inquiry by the charity into people’s experiences with obtaining and using the evidence for policies, inside and outside government. Public submissions to the inquiry are now open.

The research, carried out in September and October with 2,563 UK adults, looked at who used government information sources and whether people got what they needed from them. Initial analysis indicates that the decrease was larger in younger people ( 18-29 years old).

The national survey shows a mixed picture in relation to different government sources, with higher-than-expected levels of engagement with sources such as the Office for National Statstics (ONS) website, Public Health England data dashboard and reports of government statistics.

The frequency of public engagement with government Covid-19 information was also lower since March 2021 compared to the first six months of the pandemic. Between these two time periods, the proportion of people finding out the latest government information about Covid-19 “less than once a week” rose by 17 percentage points.

People had high engagement with government sources of Covid-19 information overall: when analysed by age group, younger people were more likely to have accessed Covid-19 information via peer groups or social media influencers. This accounted for 59% of 18-29 year-olds, compared to 40% of people aged 30 to 49 and 23% of people aged 50 or older.

The full results of the survey are being analysed and will be published with the report of the What Counts? scoping inquiry in early spring next year. Alongside NatCen’s national survey, preparations for the inquiry include interviews with people around the UK providing facilities and services and those faced with decisions in a wide range of settings and communities about risks and trade-offs to mitigate the effects of the pandemic and assess government reasoning.

NatCen chief executive Guy Goodwin said: “As the pandemic continues, it’s vitally important we understand people’s experiences of, and interactions with, government information on Covid-19. This research and the What Counts? inquiry provide evidence that can help shape effective government communications during the pandemic. Crucially, this can support people across society to make sound decisions during these changing times.”