Understanding Scotland – Economy February 2024

Amidst economic uncertainties, perspectives from the latest wave of Understanding Scotland reveal nuanced attitudes amongst Scots, curbing spending amidst increasing scepticism about Scotland’s trajectory. Understanding Scotland Economy Tracker is produced in partnership with the David Hume Institute.

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Amidst economic uncertainties, perspectives from the latest wave of Understanding Scotland reveal nuanced attitudes amongst Scots. However, a prevailing sentiment holds firm: a majority of Scots believe Scotland is heading in the wrong direction, matching the highest percentage seen in the Understanding Scotland series in May 2023.

Healthcare and the cost of living once again occupy top slots in public priorities, with poverty and inequality, the economy, trust in politics, and housing also prominent concerns. The constitution and devolution is at its lowest level of priority amongst the public since the beginning of the series.

Age remains a salient factor in shaping priorities, with healthcare concerns peaking among the oldest demographic and cost of living/inflation worries dominating younger generations’ outlook.

Economic priorities exhibit remarkable stability, with cost of living and inflation maintaining their top spots. However, this stability masks pronounced age-based disparities, with younger demographics prioritising cost of living concerns at higher rates, while older generations lean towards public service spending and managing public finances.

Scots’ economic outlook remains tinged with pessimism, with a majority expressing the belief that conditions will deteriorate further. The ongoing cost of living crisis propels Scots to adopt various coping mechanisms, reflecting a recalibration of spending habits in the face of uncertainty.

Attitudes towards safety nets reveal a widespread recognition of collective responsibility and employer accountability in ensuring societal support systems. There is also consensus on the interconnectedness of personal well-being, work performance, and long-term societal implications, underscoring the importance of addressing immediate needs for a sustainable future.

Key Takeaways

This edition of Understanding Scotland brings you insights from over 2,300 members of the adult (16+) Scottish public on the most important aspects of our society and economy.

1. Economic survival tactics: Scots’ strategies amidst the cost of living crisis

With the cost of living continuing to impact Scots, many continue to employ various coping strategies to manage higher prices. Nearly seven in ten Scots (67%) have reduced non-essential purchases, while significant proportions have cut back on energy use (64%), leisure activities (62%), and household heating (60%). Additionally, about 45% have decreased savings contributions, and over a third (36%) have tapped into their savings. These behaviours are more prevalent among younger age groups, suggesting a disproportionate impact on working-age individuals.

2. Cautious outlook: Scots’ continue to curb future spending

Both essential and non-essential spending expectations show little change since the last quarter. Decreasing proportions of people expect to spend more and an increasing proportion of people expect to spend the same across various goods and services. This suggests a cautious approach amongst Scots, as tough economic times continue for many.

3. Collective responsibility: Consensus on managing risk and employer responsibility

There is a strong consensus amongst Scots regarding the importance of collective responsibility and employer accountability for managing societal risks. Over three- quarters (77%) agree on the necessity of a safety net, while an overwhelming majority (87%) believe that employers should provide wages that meet basic needs. Additionally, there is widespread acknowledgment (86%) of the long-term costs associated with neglecting people’s basic needs, underscoring the importance of addressing immediate concerns to mitigate future societal impacts.

4. Generational divides: Varied priorities across age groups

Once again, healthcare and the cost of living continue to be top public priorities. Almost half (49%) report healthcare and the NHS as a top issue facing Scotland: up one percentage point from November. Meanwhile, cost of living/inflation remains a core concern for four in ten (41%). In February 2024, only 9% of Scots placed the constitution and devolution in their top three most important issues compared to 25% in the first wave in Understanding Scotland. Age remains a significant factor influencing Scots’ priorities and concerns. While healthcare and the NHS are paramount among older age groups, younger individuals are more focused on cost-of-living issues.

5. Growing doubts: Scots’ increasing scepticism about Scotland’s trajectory

The majority of Scots (58%) believe that Scotland is heading in the wrong direction, marking a three percentage point increase from the previous wave. This shift matches the highest percentage recorded since the beginning of Understanding Scotland, which was previously recorded in May 2023, reflecting an increasing sense of pessimism about the future. Conversely, just under one in four (23%) believe that things in Scotland are heading in the right direction, the lowest percentage to say so in the Understanding Scotland series.