Survey finds public wants broader terms of reference for Covid Inquiry 

Children and ‘nudge’ among key concerns 

THE Government Covid Inquiry published its draft terms of reference in March and a public consultation on them will close this Thursday 7 April. Now an independent and authoritative new survey by opinion experts Yonder for Recovery has revealed that they fail to address major public concerns. 

Although the draft terms bullet-point no less than 32 separate areas of focus for the Inquiry, key areas of concern remain missing – top amongst them the impact of measures on children, which two out of three adults say should be specifically included.  The survey’s findings found that:

42% want the Inquiry to consider the use of behavioural psychology in influencing public behaviour during the pandemic – even though the issue has rarely hit the headlines. 

40% want restrictions on the media examined, reflecting concern over whether the actions of Ofcom and the main broadcasters and social media platforms compromised freedom of speech. 

The survey data reveals big differences in opinion between age groups and regions, with specific groups risk having their concerns go unnoticed. 

  • 60% want a specific focus on children to be included in the inquiry – there is currently no mention of the impact of covid measures on children; 
  • There’s widespread concern around the Government’s use of psychology (‘nudge’ techniques) to alter people’s behaviour without their awareness: 42% nationally want the Inquiry to address this. 
  • Worry over ‘nudge’ rises sharply amongst key groups. It is highest amongst the young and in Northern Ireland, where a huge 58% said they want behavioural psychology addressed. This suggests that key communities are becoming alienated from the way Government operates. 
  • A similar pattern is evident over the restrictions on media reporting. 40% want these to be considered by the Inquiry, but this rises to 45% amongst 25-34 year olds and to 55% in the North East. 
  • Alongside the personal stories of those who suffered loss through Covid-19 itself, the survey finds that the Inquiry should also consider those who suffered through lockdowns and restrictions. Feelings run highest where the measures were more severe and protracted: half those surveyed in Scotland and a massive 57% of Welsh people said that these stories must be heard, versus around 45% in England. 

People were given the opportunity to write in additional areas they wanted addressed and again, the significant level of response here revealed a strong demand for a wide-ranging Inquiry, with respondents citing concerns ranging from ‘the biased reporting and sharing of information’ to the way contracts were awarded. 

None of this surprises me. One of Recovery’s key demands from the day we launched has been for a comprehensive and balanced Inquiry into Covid-19. Now we have that opportunity – but the terms of reference for the Inquiry must reflect the priorities of the people of the UK. This survey reveals areas of major public concern have been omitted. The draft terms must be revised to reflect the issues that the public wants addressed.

The details of what Yonder asked are: 

The Government has published draft terms of reference for the forthcoming public inquiry into the Covid-19 pandemic. Currently these terms of reference include preparedness, the public health response, the response in the health and care sector and our economic response.

Currently, there are calls for the inquiry into the Government’s response to Covid-19 to broaden its terms of reference to include a number of areas which have attracted criticism and are currently missing. Which of the following terms of reference if any, do you feel that the inquiry should also consider? 

  • The impact on children and education 
  • The personal stories of those suffering loss or bereavement through lockdowns or restrictions 
  • The use of ‘nudge’ techniques such as using fear to control behaviour by Government psychologists during the pandemic 
  • Controls placed on media reporting 
  • Other (with the option to write in a response) 
  • None of these 

The survey was carried out by Yonder for Recovery via online Omnibus polling based on a representative sample of 1,100 UK adults with field work taking place on 22-23 March 2022.