Social Problems facing Britain in 2020…

My top 14 social problems facing Britain in 2020:

  1. Pollution and the environment
  2. Inequality, low pay and poverty
  3. Inflation/ cost of living/ especially housing
  4. unemployment and underemployment
  5. Race relations
  6. The Ageing population
  7. Crime, law and order
  8. Mental health – depression/ anxiety (/suicide)
  9. Sexual inequalities
  10. Drug and alcohol abuse
  11. Lack of faith (trust) in government
  12. Immigration/ overpopulation

This is a ‘first thoughts’ off the top of my head ranking based on a combination of what I know about these social issues and social theory/ research evidence.

Also, this isn’t comprehensive – I’ve taken the above from the Ipsos-Mori September 2019 survey – so really this is my ‘top 14’ social issues as identified by 1027 members of the British public in 2019.

This is what the British public thought were the most important social issues in September 2019….

Actually not quite, I’ve added in mental health and sexual inequalities just because I think they deserve a mention, unlike at least 95.5% of the British population sampled last September!

A broadly Marxist Rationale for my Ranking

I’ve put pollution and the environment at number 1 as if we don’t stop living within planetary limits soon we’re just lining up more social problems in the future – the more we consume and pollute the fewer resources there are to go round and the fewer resources the more inequality, the higher the cost of living, the more social unrest and so on.

Inequality comes second following Wilkinson and Picket’s work in the Spirit Level – inequality seems to be the number one variable correlated with all other social problems. I’ve included poverty with inequality as (simplifying to the extreme) in Britain we only really have relative poverty, which is a function of inequality.

At three is the ultimate economic challenge – keeping the cost of living down. I think this is fundamentally related to inequality – for example landlords owning several houses and renting them out make themselves rich while impoverishing their tenants.

I’ve included unemployment and underemployment at four as these is these are not only fundamentally linked to inequality, but also a future challenge as technological change strips out jobs from the economy.

Race relations goes in at five because Racism does still exist and it is the most common tool for scapegoating the causes of all other social problems. If we can just get rid of silly notions of Racism, the masses might direct their attention at the elites who create most of our social problems.

The ageing population is next as it’s something of a ticking time bomb – we haven’t yet addressed as a society how we are going to pay for the increased health and social care costs of people in old age in the context of a less favourable dependency ratio in future years.

To skip to the final two, I regard these as positive things – lack of faith in national politics I think is a necessary precursor to more decentralized, autonomous solutions to social problems and as to immigration and migration more generally, not only can this solve the ‘problem’ of the ageing population, I think in general we need more of it – if nothing else to combat the problem of racial prejudice!

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What are the most important issues facing Britain in 2020?

How valid are Mori’s survey’s as an indicator of the social problems facing Britain today?

Brexit, the NHS and Crime were the three most important issues facing Britain in 2019, according to a recent poll conducted by Mori.

The following percentages of people responded that the issues below were ‘important’:

  • The Common Market/Brexit/EU/Europe – 65%
  • NHS/Hospitals/Healthcare – 36%
  • Crime/ Law and Order/ Anti-social Behaviour – 22%
  • Education/ schools – 21%
  • Poverty/ Inequality – 17%
  • Housing – 15%
  • Pollution/ Environment – 15%
  • Economy – 15%
  • Lack of faith in politics/ politicians/ government – 15%
  • Immigration/ immigrants – 10%

The above results come from Ipsos Mori’s ‘issues’ index/ poll, which is carried out every month, but at time of writing the September results are most up to date published version.

These results are based on a sample of 1027 adults aged 18 or over and it asks respondents to basic questions:

Q1 – what is the most important issue facing Britain today?

Q2 – what are other important issues facing Britain today?

The above results are a combination of the responses to Q1 and Q2. As I understand it these are open questions and there is no prompting from the person administering the survey.  

* means less than 0.5% of people said this

Analysis of these results

It’s no surprise that Brexit came out on top as the main issue facing Britain in 2019. NB if you look back at previous polls in preceding months, the results are similar, so the end of year 2019 issue review will no doubt show something quite similar to this September poll when it’s published later in the year.

Brexit hasn’t ‘stolen’ the importance of other issues either – if you take a long look back, before Brexit was on the agenda, the percentages for the next most important issues other than Brexit were mostly around the 10-40%s.

What’s interesting is how few people think anything other than Brexit and the NHS are ‘issues’ at all – even the third most important issue, Crime etc. is only regarded as an ‘issue’ by 22% of the public, and the topic closest to my heart, and no doubt most other sociologists’ – poverty and inequality – is only seen as an issue by 17%, or around 1 in 6 of the population – it’s no surprise Labour had such a dismal 2019 election results based on this!

If people are taking this poll seriously, then the British public seem to be pretty upbeat about what’s occurring in the UK at the moment, seeing an absence of social problems?

The following ‘issues’ have been growing as concerns over recent years….

There are quite significant differences in results by age and social class – the environment and housing come out much higher for younger people and crime and immigration higher for older people. Concern over immigration is twice as high for the lower social classes as it is for the higher social classes. Check out the later part of report for more details.

I’m very surprised mental health isn’t in the list, perhaps people don’t regard this as a ‘social’ problem?

Are social issues the same as social problems?

Common sense tells me that when people say something like Brexit or Crime is ‘an important issue’, they are really saying that’s it’s a problem, or a potential problem – that is something that is doing harm to society and needs something doing about it.

However, this remains an assumption on my part. There are issues of subjectivity with the interpretation of the word ‘issues’, sort-of pun entirely intended.

If this is the case, and people are reading ‘social problems’ when they read issues, it’s worth noting how few people think there are problems in Britain.

A few thoughts on the methods involved with this poll

This is research on opinions at its most very basic – a basic open question survey with two questions and the responses coded into ‘said it was an important issue’ or not.

We do get some very clear results from this survey, but as mentioned above, these are very general results and there could be a whole range of different meanings and opinions behind them. 65% of people might think Brexit is an important issue/ problem that needs something doing about it, but there’s no indication here of why they think it’s important or what should be done about it!

There are some validity concerns over the way the researchers have grouped some of the issues – why lump the three ‘Brexit’ and ‘Europe’ issues together but not put ‘drugs’ with crime for example? And why not put all of the economic type issues into a category called ‘money’. Also, ‘ageing population’ could be combined with the NHS issue as the two are fundamentally related.

Possibly the ‘Brexit’ issue has been exaggerated because of invalid grouping of anything to do with Europe being put in one category?

I also think ‘crime’ could be broken down into different types of crime. It’s much more general compared to say ‘housing’ for example.

Conclusions

It will be interesting to see what happens to public opinion on social issues/ problems in 2020 now that ‘Brexit’ has kind of been resolved and we have a majority Tory government in place.

Hopefully World War Three won’t replace Brexit as the most significant issue facing Britain this year!