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‘Stress levels through the roof’: Britons ‘more divided’ over face masks and lockdown than Brexit

Written by on 11 September 2020

Coronavirus is causing deeper social divides than Brexit, with more than half of mask wearers in the UK having strong negative attitudes to those who refuse to wear one, new research suggests.

The poll of over 10,000 people, conducted by think tank Demos, found that people have contrasting opinions of the COVID-19 pandemic based on their experiences, social class and occupations.

The findings show that the social divide on the key questions associated with the pandemic – such as mask wearing or lockdown rules – is now deeper than the divide over Brexit.

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More than half of mask wearers (58%) have severely negative attitudes towards non-mask wearers.

Meanwhile, 68% of people who did not break lockdown rules also have strong negative views about those who are breaking them, while 60% of participants said they hated or resented stockpilers.

The research found that there is a real concern about the increased prevalence of fake news, including to do with vaccines and online fraud, with 54% of people believing it has got worse.

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Around 51% of parents view the pandemic as a bad thing for their youngsters’ education, while 63% said they thought it has been good for their relationship with their children.

People also want greater flexibility regarding their place of work, with a balance between working from home and from an office or elsewhere.

The proportion of people who would like to continue working from home is 19% – higher than before the pandemic at 11%.

The rule of six - here's what you can and can't do in England from Monday

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Commenting on the findings, Polly Mackenzie, chief executive of Demos, said while the pandemic has helped people come together, the social divisions caused by the pandemic are “stark”.

“We must work to ensure that these divisions don’t fracture society in the long-term,” she said.

Speaking to Sky News on Friday, she added: “When the pandemic first hit, the whole country was united against a common enemy.

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“As furlough starts to come to an end, people’s stress levels go through the roof and they’re starting to feel like it’s safer to blame other people, and that is fermenting a social division.”

Middle class people were found to be by far the most likely to report upsides from the coronavirus crisis.

A laboratory technician wearing full PPE (personal protective equipment) cleans a test tube containing a live sample taken from people tested for the novel coronavirus, at a new Lighthouse Lab facility dedicated to testing for COVID-19, at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow on April 22, 2020. - The laboratory is part of a network of diagnostic testing facilities, along with other Lighthouse Lab sites in Milton Keynes and Cheshire, that will test samples from regional test centres around Britain where NHS staff and front-line workers with suspected Covid-19 infections have gone to have swabs taken for testing. (Photo by Andrew Milligan / POOL / AFP) (Photo by ANDREW MILLIGAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

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Around 37% of those on incomes of more than GBP50,000 felt their spending habits had improved, compared with that of 22% of those on incomes of less than GBP20,000.

The research also found that people are now putting greater importance on a range of issues including green space, self-sufficiency and air pollution.