Are people beginning to flout the UK's lockdown?

Are Britons flouting the lockdown? A new survey from the UK's Office for National Statistics, published today, has raised suspicions that some might be. The results suggest a slight increase in movement around the country, and a slight fraying of what we might call “community spirit”.

The number of people saying they had worked from home in the last week fell from 49.2% between 3 and 13 April to 44.6% between 9 and 20 April. That may partly reflect changes in individual company policy rather than people’s attitudes to lockdown, with some high-profile stores, for example, beginning to re-open branches.

The proportion saying they “strongly agreed” that community members would support them during the outbreak fell from 33.6% to 30.9%, while the number who hadn’t checked on neighbours in the past week rose from 26% to 34.5%.

People also seem to be slightly more optimistic about the future: 19.2% now expect their lives to be back to normal in three months or less, up from 17.6%. The proportion saying they expect the general economic situation in the UK to “get a lot worse” over the next year has dropped from 57% to 52.7%.

The words “slight” and “slightly” appear three times in the sentences above – and that’s not an accident. These are not big shifts; they don’t change the overall picture, and in some cases the level of change is smaller than the confidence interval. In other words, some of the changes might tell us little more than that, ideally, we’d have a bigger sample size. Nonetheless, there does seem to be some small movement, and in a consistent direction.

The key question the survey asks – if we are interested in whether the lockdown is fraying – is whether people have only left their home for permitted reasons. This was true of 85.4% of people between 3 and 13 April, and 83.5% between 9 and 20 April. That suggests “frayed” is pushing it, but it’s still something the government will want to watch closely.

 
 
 
 

Sadiq Khan and Grant Shapps clash over free bus travel for under 18s

A London bus at Victoria station. Image: Getty.

The latest front in the row between Transport for London (TfL) and national government over how to fund the capital’s transport system: free bus travel for the under 18s.

Two weeks ago, you’ll recall, TfL came perilously close to running out of money and was forced to ask for a bail out. The government agreed, but offered less money, and with more strings attached, than the agency wanted. At present, there are a range of fare discounts – some up to 100% – available to children depending on their age and which service they’re using, provided they have the right Oyster card. One of the government’s strings, the mayor’s office says, was to end all free TfL travel for the under 18s, Oyster or no Oyster.

The Department for Transport’s line on all this is that this is about maximising capacity. Many working-age people need to use buses to get to their jobs: they’re more likely to be able to do that, while also social distancing, if those buses aren’t already full of teenagers riding for free. (DfT cited the same motivation for banning the use of the Freedom Pass, which provides free travel for the retired, at peak times.)

But in an open letter to transport secretary Grant Shapps, the mayor, Sadiq Khan, wrote that TfL believed that 30% of children who currently received free travel had a statutory entitlement to it, because they attend schools more than a certain distance from their homes. If TfL doesn’t fund this travel, London’s boroughs must, which apart from loading costs onto local government means replacing an administrative system that already exists with one that doesn’t. 

Some Labour staffers also smell Tory ideological objections to free things for young people at work. To quote Khan’s letter:

“It is abundantly clear that losing free travel would hit the poorest Londoners hardest at a time when finances are stretched more than ever... I want to make sure that families who might not have a choice but to use public transport are not further disadvantaged.”

London’s deputy mayor for transport, Heidi Alexander, is set to meet government officials next week to discuss all this. In the mean time, you can read Khan’s letter here.

UPDATE: The original version of this piece noted that the full agreement between the mayor and DfT remained mysteriously unpublished. Shortly after this story went live, the agreement appeared. Here it is.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.