Use of face masks rises and parents relax over sending children to school – poll


More parents now feel comfortable about sending their child to school, while face masks are increasing in popularity, according to a new poll.

A study on attitudes among the general public, carried out by King’s College London and Ipsos Mori, found shifts between May and July in how people are feeling about the Covid-19 pandemic.

The poll of 2,237 UK residents aged 16 to 75 found a “big shift” among parents in how they feel about youngsters going to school.

In May, only 33% said they would be very or fairly comfortable with sending children in, but this rose to 48% of those surveyed between July 17 and 20.

The proportion who said they were very uncomfortable with doing so halved – to 15%.

School parents poll
School parents poll

The survey questioned 609 parents in July and compared the findings with 590 interviewed in May.

More generally, there has been a small drop in the number of people thinking the UK Government is relaxing control measures too quickly – with 50% now feeling it is moving too fast, down slightly from 54% in May.

On the trade-off between fighting coronavirus and protecting civil liberties, the majority of people (62%) think the emphasis should still be on fighting Covid-19, compared with 18% who want to protect civil liberties more.

The poll also asked about mask-wearing at a time when the Government had announced that face coverings would be compulsory in shops but the measure had not yet come into force.

Some 70% of people reported wearing a mask in July, up from 19% in April, the study found.

There was widespread belief that face masks help reduce the spread of coronavirus, with 81% of the population thinking it is true and 9% thinking it is false.

However, 10% believe face masks are bad for your health and 13% think they are just a way for the Government to control people.

This increases to one in five 16 to 24-year-olds (21%) and a quarter of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups (25%).

A third (34%) of those use WhatsApp as a main source of information think it is a way of the Government exerting control, as do 30% who rely on YouTube.

Overall, one in eight people (13%) has been confronted or reported to authorities for not wearing a face mask, or have confronted or reported other people.

If a vaccine or treatment does not become available, 77% consider it acceptable that people will be required to wear face masks outside their home over the long term – up from 67% in May.

Professor Bobby Duffy, director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London, said: “The large majority of the public have now come round to the idea of wearing face masks ­– a rapid change in both behaviour and belief, given how recently ago they seemed like an extreme measure and there was such uncertainty over their effectiveness in advice from Government and elsewhere.

“But face masks are also proving a source of tension for a significant minority.

“One in eight survey respondents say they’ve been involved in either confrontations or reports to the authorities about not wearing them – and, while this is a minority of the UK population, it is equivalent to around six million people.

“More generally, though, ‘Covid-secure’ behaviours are becoming embedded for many of us and, while the public say they’re still being cautious, there are some signs that people are feeling more at ease about a loosening of the restrictions, with parents in particular now much more likely to say they’re comfortable with their children returning to school.”

Asked about income, around three in 10 people have either had reductions in their income or had to cut back on spending, very similar to the survey in May.

Twenty-three percent of people said they have more money (similar to May), but minority groups are still reporting difficulties paying bills or buying essentials.

The poll also found there have been significant falls in the number of adults and children who are staying at home all week.

Some 11% of parents now say their child has not left home at all in the past week, compared with 23% in May.

However, 30% of children are still not leaving home on five or more days a week, down from 47% in May.

Despite the easing of the restrictions, there has also been little change in the proportions who say they have felt more anxious (46%) or depressed (39%) as a result of the pandemic.

A quarter (26%) still say they have drunk more alcohol than they normally would, down slightly from 29% in May.