Understanding Scotland – Economy February 2023

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Our latest Understanding Scotland: Economy report continues to shine a light on people’s attitudes to the economy and their concerns about the cost of living.

The survey fieldwork took place in the week prior to the announcement by the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, that she would be resigning from her role. In this latest report we find for the first time that the majority of Scots believe that Scotland is heading in the wrong direction, continuing a recent trend.

Healthcare/the NHS and the cost of living remain top of the list of concerns for Scots. The proposed response of the leadership hopefuls in the race for First Minister will likely face intense scrutiny in these areas. There continues to be a wide feeling among Scots that economic conditions and their own financial circumstances are worse than 12 months ago.

However, while the majority remain pessimistic that these conditions will improve over the next 12 months, the depth of that pessimism is reduced from previous waves. The cost of living and inflation continue to dominate the concerns of Scots in terms of economic priorities as people remain dissatisfied with the adequacy of their income to cover the cost of living.

The crisis continues to impact our behaviours, with many reducing energy consumption and cutting down on non-essential purchases to make ends meet. We also find that a significant proportion of Scots would struggle to cope if an emergency required a payment of £100 or £500 without having to borrow money, bringing the fragile economic reality for many
households into sharp focus.

This report explores these and other economy related issues as we continue to monitor and analyse how the public is thinking and behaving during these uncertain times.

Key Takeaways

This edition of Understanding Scotland brings you insights from over 2,000 members of the adult (16+) Scottish public on the most important aspects of our society and economy.

  1. The majority  of people do not think economic conditions will get better in the next 12 months
    The majority of people remain pessimistic about the way in which economic conditions will change over the next 12 months. However, the level of pessimism has lessened since November 2022, with two-thirds (66%) saying that it will be worse, representing a drop from 81% in November. Around one in four (23%) believe that the situation will remain the same and only 10% predict that economic conditions will be better.
  2. The majority of people feel that general economic conditions are worse than a year ago….
    Almost nine in 10 Scots (88%) think that economic conditions are worse than they were a year ago. However, this is marginally lower than the 94% figure reported in November 2022.
  3. As are their own finances
    Nearly two-thirds (63%) of Scots believe that their own personal financial situation has got worse in the last 12 months. Those in the most deprived neighbourhoods are more likely to say that their personal financial situation has got much worse in the last 12 months than those in the least deprived neighbourhoods.
  4. Cost of living and inflation and healthcare remain top priorities for Scots
    People’s economic priorities have remained relatively stable, with costs of living and inflation cited by the vast majority (65%) as one of the top three issues facing the Scottish economy. This is followed by living standards and wages (44%) and poverty (29%). Additionally, the majority of Scots (52%) identify healthcare and the NHS as one of the three most important issues facing Scotland generally
  5. People remain dissatisfied with the adequacy of their income
    The majority of people report being dissatisfied with their income covering the cost of living (58%). This level of dissatisfaction is followed closely by dissatisfaction with income level in general (47%) and people’s ability to meet their household bills (46%). This is more pronounced in more deprived neighbourhoods than in the least deprived neighbourhoods The time series data demonstrates that work and income satisfaction levels have remained relatively stable since the last point of data collection in November 2022.
  6. Many Scots are experiencing financial fragility
    A quarter (25%) of people, are not confident that they would be able to pay for an emergency expense of £100 without having to take out a loan or borrow money. This figure rises to 45% for an emergency expense of £500. This points to an alarming level of financial precarity in Scottish households.  These figures are higher among households with children and the most deprived neighbourhoods.
  7. We are watching our energy use…
    Seven in ten (69%) people report that they have cut their energy use through methods such as switching off lights and not using the oven to cope with rising prices and inflation. Similarly, six in ten (60%) report not turning their heating on when they otherwise would have done to save money, though this has decreased from 68% in November 2022.
  8. …. And continuing to tighten our belts
    People also report cutting discretionary spending, including spending on non essential purchases (68%) and on leisure activities (61%) in roughly similar proportions as November 2022.  Reducing charity donations (43%) and taking money out of saving to cover higher costs (42%) have both increased in prevalence among Scots since November by three and five percentage points respectively.
  9. Precarity in the labour and housing markets do not affect all Scots equally
    57% (excluding don’t know and not applicable) are not confident that they could get a job/another job within 3 months if necessary and 42% feel similarly unsure that they could pay their housing costs if they increased in the next 6 months. This latter figure rises to 54% among those from the most deprived neighbourhoods and drops to 34% among respondents from the least deprived neighbourhoods.
  10. The majority of Scots think that scotland is heading in the wrong direction….
    55% of Scots feel that things in Scotland are heading in the wrong direction. This is the first time since the beginning of Understanding Scotland that a majority have said this and an increase of six percentage points from the previous high of 49% in November 2022.”