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Our fifth wave of public research on charities and the pandemic

This weekend we continued our series of polls to understand public reactions to the pandemic and charities. Case numbers, hospitalisations and deaths have all increased dramatically since our previous wave of fieldwork so now is a particularly important moment to try and gauge how the public is feeling. Explore our results in this week's blog.
By Cian Murphy 


This weekend we continued our series of polls to understand public reactions to the pandemic and charities. Fieldwork for this wave of research with a representative sample of 1,000 members of the general public took place between the 23rd and 27th October and it follows on from our previous wave in June. Findings for this and previous waves are available to explore in full in an online dashboard

Key findings this wave include: 

  • Concern about the pandemic has stayed stable since June 

  • Concern about the impact of the pandemic on a number of vulnerable groups has declined 

  • The number thinking that society is overreacting to the pandemic has slightly increased 

  • Satisfaction with the government response to the pandemic is at a low since we started tracking 

  • Belief that the government is doing enough to support charities is extremely low 

  • Trust in all sorts of information sources about the pandemic has declined, including charities 

  • Giving levels remain depressed 

  • There are low levels of comfort with interacting with charities except for visiting charity shops 

  • Charity visibility is low with nearly 60% unable to name a charity responding to the pandemic more than seven months in 

  • There has been a decline in the proportion willing to support a charity responding to the pandemic 

 As case numbers, hospitalisations and deaths from coronavirus in the UK have all risen sharply since our last wave of fieldwork, one might expect that concern would have risen in tandem. However, that does not seem to be the case, with just 67% saying that it is one of the five issues they are most concerned about, exactly the same proportion as in June. By contrast, at the peak of concern in our tracking in early April, 81% picked the virus as a top issue of concern. In our last wave we saw a pattern of increasing concern about more regular issues and that pattern continues here – 34% are concerned about Brexit, up from 28% in April; 24% are concerned about economic inequality, up from 18% in March; while 17% are concerned about online security compared to 11% in March. 

This has also filtered into declining concern about the impact of the virus on a number of vulnerable groups. Concerningly for charities working in these areas, the proportion concerned about the impact of the pandemic on older people, those living with diabetes and heart disease and people with underlying health conditions have all declined in our last two waves of research.  

When asked about government response to the pandemic, just 28% were satisfied, a low since we began tracking and substantially down from 51% in early April. There is also a low in the proportion believing the government is doing enough to support charities (just 27%). As the politics of lockdowns, masks and general pandemic response have become more divided, there is also an increasing number saying that society is overreacting to the pandemic, although the number is still just 20%.  

 Perhaps connected to this growing division, trust in a wide range of bodies as potential information sources about the pandemic has declined significantly. Trust in NHS officials, government statements, TV news and charities are all at a low since we began tracking this measure. In this wave just 49% of people said they would trust charities a great deal or quite a lot as an information source.  

 Concerningly for charities, the pattern remains from previous waves of research that the public are substantially unaware of the work they have been doing over the course of the pandemic. Along with declining trust, we have also seen a decline in the proportion agreeing that charities have responded well to the pandemic – just 47%, compared to 54% in late April and 53% in June. 59% were unable to name a single charity responding to the pandemic. 

 The outlook for fundraising is challenging too. Just 54% say they have donated to a charity in the last three months – up slightly (but not significantly) from June, but still well down on 61% in March. Just 50% say that they would be willing to support a charity responding to the pandemic, down from 60% in April. For the first time this wave, we asked people how comfortable they would be interacting with charities in a number of ways. Just 27% said they would be comfortable taking part in a coffee morning or other social events, while only 23% would be comfortable attending a face to face charity service. By contrast, 46% would be comfortable visiting a charity shop. 

 There is a temptation in difficult times such as these to delay action on fundraising or communication, to feel that it is safer to wait until more stable times. But the long-standing evidence is that firms that continue to advertise throughout a recession emerge on the other side with an increased market share, and the same is likely to be true of charities. The public continue to believe that charities should keep up their fundraising work (66%, essentially unchanged from 67% in June).  

 Those of us in the sector know the incredible work that is being done by charities throughout the pandemic, but much of the public are completely unaware. Being bold and communicating the value and impact of your work in these incredibly difficult times, while finding new and innovative ways to raise funds, is a vital challenge for UK charities. 



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