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Pandemic Claims Britons' Optimism About Their Job Market

Pandemic Claims Britons' Optimism About Their Job Market

by Steve Crabtree

Story Highlights

  • Less than half as many Britons now than in 2019 see good job market
  • Slight majority (52%) see local economy getting worse
  • Less of an effect evident on Britons' personal living standards

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Britons' cautious optimism about their job market in 2019 all but evaporated by August and September of this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2019, for the first time since Gallup has been asking the question, adults in the United Kingdom were more likely to say it was a good time (49%) than a bad time (42%) to find a job in the communities where they live. That has sharply reversed in 2020. Less than half as many Britons (21%) now say it is a good time to find a job in their area, while about seven in 10 say the opposite.

Line graph. Trend in Britons' optimism about their local job market since 2006. Less than half as many Britons, 21%, now say it is a good time to find a job in their area, while about seven in 10 say the opposite.

Though Britons' optimism about available jobs has fallen, unemployment has not spiked to the same extent in the U.K. as it has in many other countries as a result of the pandemic. Under the government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, more than a million employers have received public funds to pay the salaries of furloughed workers who may otherwise have been let go.

The U.K.'s unemployment rate edged upward to 4.5% in the June-August 2020 period, but it remained well below those in the U.S. (8.4% in August), France (7.5%) or Germany (6.3%). However, COVID-19 cases are surging again in the country, forcing a second national lockdown beginning on Thursday. The government has extended the furlough system through the lockdown period, but both are scheduled to end on Dec. 2. At that point, many workers still on furlough are expected to lose their jobs.

Britons' perceptions of local economic conditions more generally have also soured in the wake of the pandemic, though not to the same extent as their jobs outlook. In 2019, adults in the U.K. were about as likely to say economic conditions in their city or area were getting better (40%) as they were to say such conditions were getting worse (39%). In 2020, a slight majority (52%) say their local economy is getting worse, while less than a third (30%) say it is getting better.

However, the August/September 2020 Gallup survey results suggest the coronavirus crisis has affected Britons' optimism about their personal finances less. Forty percent of Britons say their living standard is getting better -- unchanged from 2019 -- and 28% say it is getting worse.

Line chart. Trend in Britons' estimations of their living standards. Forty percent of Britons currently say their living standard is getting better and 28% say it is getting worse.


The dramatic change in Britons' job-market perceptions stands in contrast to steadier trends in unemployment and perceived living standards. The government's furlough subsidies help explain the discrepancy; millions have so far been sheltered from job losses by government support for employers. On Dec. 2, however, the furlough program will be replaced by the Job Support Scheme, through which the government will subsidize the wages of employees who work at least 20% of their usual pre-pandemic hours.

The move represents the government's intent to withdraw support gradually while encouraging employers to retain workers even at greatly reduced hours. But there are concerns that the new plan does little to help those left jobless after their employers are forced to close altogether amid new coronavirus restrictions, especially in "hot spot" cities like Liverpool and Manchester. If such closures increase substantially over the winter, wage subsidies will have less effect, and Britons' pessimism about their local job markets may also be mirrored by pessimism about their personal finances.

For complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

Learn more about how the Gallup World Poll works.

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