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Not OK in the UK: Satisfaction With Community Basics Suffers
World

Not OK in the UK: Satisfaction With Community Basics Suffers

by Benedict Vigers

LONDON -- On top of the news that their country slipped into recession late last year, Britons’ sinking satisfaction with basic services in their communities could spell trouble for the Conservatives in the coming local and general elections.

鶹ýAV surveys in 2023 showed Britons were unhappier with their local infrastructure, public services and environment than they were in 2011 -- the first full year of the Conservative Party’s nearly 14 years in power.

Most worrying for the current government, Britons’ satisfaction with the availability of quality healthcare and good, affordable housing took the biggest hits, falling 26 and 18 percentage points, respectively.

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Contentment Crumbles From Hope-Filled High

2011 marked a high point of Britons’ satisfaction with their local communities. That year, the U.K. scored a record-high 79 out of a possible 100 on 鶹ýAV’s Community Basics Index, which evaluates everyday life based on people’s satisfaction with seven aspects of their communities. The index declined gradually after that and is languishing at 67 in the most recent survey.

The bad news doesn’t stop there. Instead of scoring among the top Western European nations -- including Luxembourg and Germany -- on the index, as it did when the Conservatives took office, the U.K. now scores the worst. To be fair, other countries in the region have also suffered declines on this measure over the same period, but nothing close to the 12-point drop in the U.K.

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Healthcare, Housing Woes Contribute to Record Lows

Britons’ satisfaction with the availability of quality healthcare in their communities suffered the steepest decline of any service asked about. In 2023, two-thirds (66%) of Britons were satisfied with the availability of quality healthcare in their local area, down from an almost universal 92% in 2011.

Over the same period globally, only Venezuela (-35 points) has seen a bigger absolute decline in satisfaction with healthcare. Lebanon (-26 points) and Tunisia (-27 points) have seen drops equivalent to the one in the U.K.

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And while other countries in Western Europe, notably France (-17 points) and Germany (-9 points), have also seen declines in healthcare satisfaction since 2011, they have not been nearly as steep as in the U.K.

When the Conservatives returned to power in 2010 -- in coalition with the Liberal Democrats -- they cut real-terms funding increases for the National Health Service (NHS) as part of their program of austerity. During the election, all three major parties had made similar promises about future NHS funding. While annual funding increases for the NHS have risen after the years of coalition government, they remain below the widely acknowledged 3.3% real-terms annual increase needed to maintain performance.

Britons rate their housing market more negatively than any other question included in the Community Basics Index. Satisfaction with the availability of good, affordable housing in the U.K. hit a record-low 41% in 2023. This is a stark departure from the 59% measured in 2011 -- the last time it reached majority level.

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Average house prices in the U.K. generally have increased steadily across the U.K.’s four nations over the same period. The last time U.K. house prices were as unaffordable (relative to average earnings) as they are today was in 1876 -- almost a century and a half ago.

Community Dissatisfaction Widespread Across the Country

At an overall level, community satisfaction varies little across different demographics. All age groups, income levels and geographic regions in the U.K. score similarly on the Community Basics Index.

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Historically, Britons have been more satisfied with their local communities if they approve of their country’s leadership than if they disapprove. But this gap has narrowed gradually in recent years. Nowadays, all Britons view their local communities in a similar way, irrespective of their views toward Britain’s political leadership.

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The lack of demographic differences in perception is itself significant, months away from a general election. While the Conservatives are looking to secure another victory on polling day, they typically do so with strong foundations of support among older, more affluent voters outside of major cities -- in the so-called blue wall. But these demographics are no more positive than other groups of voters about how everyday life is functioning in their communities.

Bottom Line

Millions of British voters will vote in a general election by the end of January 2025, at the latest (the election is yet to be officially called). But they will also head to the polls next month to vote in local elections that are often fought on -- and decided by -- the state of people’s local communities.

The fact that across all sections of British society, regardless of age, affluence, region or views on leadership, residents feel equally satisfied with everyday life in their communities could demonstrate that the government’s flagship policy of “levelling up” -- which promises to spread opportunity more equally across the country -- is working.

But compared with how the U.K. scored on the Community Basics Index more than a decade ago, and where it now stands relative to the rest of Western Europe, the data suggest that the British public believes their communities have instead gone through a process of “levelling down.”

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