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expert reaction to report from UCL looking at COVID-19 and social factors including compliance with government measures, and mental health

A report, posted by University College London (UCL), looked at OVID-19 and social factors including compliance with government measures, and mental health.


Prof Robert Dingwall, Professor of Sociology, Nottingham Trent University, said:

“Although this is a large sample, it has been assembled from a variety of sources, including self-selection, and then adjusted statistically to conform to known features of the UK population.  In this respect, the press release is slightly misleading to imply that just over 50% of adults are sticking to the guidelines: it would be more correct to state that 50% of the participants in the study, after weighting, reported sticking to the guidelines. Nevertheless, there are reasonable grounds for thinking that the study will give a broadly correct snapshot of reported compliance, which is likely to be overstated by recall and social desirability biases, and of a trend, compared with previous data collected on a similar basis.

“As the authors note, but the press release does not, reports of compliance depend upon knowledge of what counts as compliance, which may well have faded as guidance and messaging have changed.  Who now remembers the 20-second handwash?  People may also have gained more nuanced experience of the system.  In particular, we should question the notion of ‘breaking’ lockdown measures so much as understanding that there is room for interpretation that honours the spirit of the advice but not necessarily the letter.  If you respect the 2m rule in an open space, some people may wonder whether it really matters whether this is in a public park or a private garden.  The lower compliance levels reported by younger people may also indicate a growing awareness of the trivial risk presented by Covid-19 to these age groups.  The lockdown rules and advice are not proportionate to this, although they may be well-intentioned in helping to prevent transmission to older people.

“The reported anxiety levels remain troubling.  The lack of movement suggests that we are seeing problems that may remain for a good deal longer, especially as the declining levels of confidence in the UK/English government may lead to a lack of trust in its more optimistic messaging.”


Prof John Drury, Professor of Social Psychology, University of Sussex, said:

“The authors’ finding that adherence to the public health measures remains relatively high is good to see.

“But the decline in adherence, which the authors link to reduced confidence in the government, is worrying.

“As our own research shows, the key to emergency communication is good relations between the authority and the public.  When the relationship is damaged, communication fails.

“I agree with those calling for the NHS and public health authorities to take leadership instead of this government.”


‘Covid-19 Social Study: Results Release 10’ by Daisy Fancourt et al. was published at 00:01 UK time on Friday 29 May 2020.  This isn’t a journal publication and it is not peer-reviewed.


All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:


Declared interests

None received.

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