Public Concerns

Monitoring of public concerns can provide an insight into the issues that will shape future public and political debate. Although these concerns are diverse, many are now linked in the media by the common narrative of spending cuts.

Since the recession, public concerns over the economy and unemployment have become more important. Immigration (see attitudes to immigrants) and law and order are other key issues, also of increasing importance since the recession. A recent development at the end of 2010 is the increasing concern over the cost of higher education with a number of high profile student protests leading to further fears regarding public order.

Charitable donations (see individual giving) give an alternative perspective on public concerns since the level of donations for a cause reflects the relevance of that cause to the population. Medical research is persistently the most popular cause, followed by children and overseas aid, suggesting that these are also important concerns for the UK public.

The media plays an important role in both reflecting and fuelling public concerns. Concerns over law and order in particular appear to be linked more to the public’s perception of threat than to rising crime rates. However, it is interesting to note that despite the ubiquity of environmental concerns in the media, it persistently appears far down the list in the Ipsos Mori poll (see Want to know more?).

What are the implications?

  • Continued economic difficulties directly impact on the resources and activities of the VCS. Public concern over these issues may cause further problems although the impact on individual giving has been less than was feared.
  • Increasingly high profile of a small number of key public concerns may lead to the marginalisation of other issues important to the VCS.
  • Media and government focus on high-profile concerns and fears may affect which organisations and causes people choose to spend their time supporting, which will have an impact on the success of campaigns and numbers of volunteers (see trends in volunteering).
  • Given the increasing importance of immigration as a public concern, some VCOs may play a valuable role in resolving tensions between different parts of society.
  • VCOs may also need to represent, advocate and campaign more assertively on behalf of groups that feel victimised.
  • A growing perception of increased crime and deteriorating attitudes to immigrants may mean that public and media attitudes towards certain groups become increasingly hostile.

Moving forward

With widespread cuts in public spending, certain issues may be prioritised, depending on the degree of public concern.

  • How can you ensure issues central to your organisation do not get overridden by a return to longstanding public concerns or populist issues?
  • Can you monitor the services you deliver more effectively to better make the case for the need for your services and the work you do?

As economic pressure rises, the policy and media agenda may increasingly be shaped by tensions between different communities.

  • Does your organisation have a role in building cohesion in your community? How might this role change as tensions rise?

Some organisations may feel it is part of their role to counter public concerns (particularly where they may be founded on misperceptions) and to promote important issues to funders, policy makers, the press and the public.

  • Do you feel this is something your organisation should do? How could you do this effectively?

Want to know more?

Public Issues Facing Britain

Published by: Ipsos MORI

Date: Monthly

Format: Web and PDF

What is it? Compiled and summarised results each month presenting a general overview of the main issues the public perceive as concerning.

How useful is this? The data collected is up to date and informative; Ipsos MORI obtain their research data through a sample of approximately 1000 adults each month and present the information through a quick accessible summary while also linking to more in depth coverage of the findings. The pre-compiled charts are especially useful in getting a quick overview of the key issues that concern the country.

Other comments: An archive of research is available on the website stretching back over 10 years.

UK Giving 2010

Published by: NCVO/CAF, partnership between two infrastructure charities

Date: September 2010

Format: PDF

What is it? This report provides an overview of charitable giving in the UK, mainly based on an annual survey. As an annual publication, it also helps identify trends.

How useful is this? Individual giving to charities may often be motivated either by personal experience of a problem or by a strong personal belief in the importance of the cause. As such, the popularity of a cause may be seen as a proxy measure for its importance as a public concern. The results of the annual survey reveal medical research as the most popular cause, followed by children's charities and overseas relief and development.

British Social Attitudes Survey

Published by: National Centre for Social Research (NatCen)

Date: December 2010

Format: PDF

What is it? This report is the 27th in a series and provides an interesting perspective on a wide range of social issues.

How useful is this? Among the key concerns that emerge from the survey results are: a lack of confidence in both politicians and in the bank sector; increasing job insecurity and growing dissatisfaction with devolution. The survey is also particularly useful for exploring trends given the duration and consistency of the series.

Other comments: An archive of research is available on the website stretching back over 10 years.

Last updated at 11:20 Mon 07/Feb/11.


How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

Log in or join for free to comment.