UK government communication lacks honesty, credibility and empathy according to a new report

Author: Belong Network
Published: August 4, 2021

Over half (51.6%) of people think UK government communication lacks honesty and credibility. This is according to new research, ‘Public Perceptions of UK and Local Government Communication about COVID-19’, released today (Wednesday 4 August). The paper, from Belong – the Cohesion and Integration Network in partnership with the University of Kent and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, had over 9,000 respondents from across the UK.

The research examined people’s thoughts on communication about COVID-19 by the UK government, by local government and by devolved governments over the last year. Local government communication was rated higher in almost all categories. The report finds that generally people view local communication as more honest, credible and empathetic than UK government communication. They also perceive locally based communication to be more directly relevant to the needs of their own communities.

  • 19.9% of people attributed high honesty and credibility to UK government communication, compared to 26.3% for local government communication.
  • 50.2% thought that UK government communication lacked empathy and 19.9% thought the level of empathy was high.
  • More people thought local government communication was higher in honesty and credibility (26.3%) and empathy (24.4%).
  • 47.9% thought UK government communication did not meet their community’s needs, compared to 35.9% for local government communication.

However, 44.8% of people viewed UK government communication as highly accessible and easy to find, compared to 33.1% for local government communication. The findings did show that both UK and local government communication were perceived as fairly clear and as using understandable language.

In Scotland and Wales there was a stark difference in perception of communications from the UK government and their own devolved governments. 64% of respondents in Scotland and 62% in Wales perceived UK government communication as lacking honesty and credibility. Whereas only 22% of respondents in Scotland and 26% of respondents in Wales perceived their devolved government communication as lacking honesty and credibility. Read more about the findings from Scotland and Wales in ‘Public Perceptions of UK and Local Government Communication about COVID-19 Appendix to the main report: Results for the Devolved Nations of Scotland and Wales’.

With the lifting of most restrictions, including a relaxation of travel restrictions this week, there is a greater reliance now on ‘personal responsibility’. According to the report it is therefore vital that people can understand advice, guidance and restrictions nationally and in their local area.

The report concludes that local areas and local government are in a stronger position to influence behaviour because they are more likely to be regarded as trusted and credible. But that they need better resourcing and support to make crucial information more widely accessible and easier to find. The report recommends that both local and national government need to improve and coordinate their communication better in order to support the public to manage the virus.

The report also explores whether these perceptions differed across different regions and countries of the UK.