“British communities four times more concerned about police and public transport than Brexit” Institute for Community Studies finds

Date: 29 November 2019


  • Safety, infrastructure and public services top voters’ concerns about the future of their communities – while Brexit doesn’t even make the top ten
  • Discontent with politicians also features in the top ten highest priority issues, according to an innovative new study by the ICS
  • Findings contrast with national-level polling about the big issues facing the country

The research – based on open-ended survey questions and face-to-face dialogue rather than more conventional polling methods – reveals a starkly different picture of the issues troubling the nation compared with traditional surveys. It finds that when voters are asked about the future of their community, supposedly dominant national issues like Brexit and the climate emergency are four times less important than the top issues concerning them.

When asked about the most important issues for the future of their community, respondents’ most pressing concerns are around safety; roads, transport and infrastructure; public services; planning, and the local economy.

Community building was the sixth most important issue on the agenda, with real solutions needed to peoples’ experience of decline and divisions at local level. The research also found that discontent with politicians at national and local level ranked higher in voters’ concerns than worries about Brexit.

Source: Institute for Community Studies. Unprompted, self-generated responses from 2,263 respondents, UK-wide, November 2019.


Difference in results to national polls

The research results get to the heart of the issues facing communities at a local level across the UK, and show communities anxious to look beyond different Brexit outcomes towards the serious local challenges they face.

Whilst polls such as Ipsos Mori’s Issues Index show Brexit retaining the top spot as the biggest issue facing Britain at national level, the Institute for Community Studies’ nationwide research found concerns about rising crime, decline in infrastructure such as roads and transport, and worries over cash-strapped public services dominate for local communities, where the impact of austerity and lack of investment has hit hardest and is most visible.

Communities prioritise different issues depending on where they live. Regional analysis shows concerns about safety were strongest in London, while people in Scotland and the North East, North West, and South West of England were unusually concerned about the need for investment in their local economy.

Communities at the local level share the lack of faith in government and discontent with politicians found by Ipsos to be rising at the national level and are concerned with bigger issues such as strengthening social cohesion, which made it into the top ten.

The environment is a growing concern for communities as reflected in the results of the research. However respondents in face to face conversations suggested that it was hard for communities to engage with issues such as climate change because of the ‘lack of a community narrative about what has to change’.

Emily Morrison, Head of the Institute for Community Studies, said:

“In a general election dominated as ever by big national issues, these results uncover the real concerns of people at the local level. They show that communities across the UK are on the front line and well aware of the impact of policy choices such as austerity.

Communities are very concerned about what the future holds and are placing a high priority on the issues that matter to them beyond Brexit, such as investment in public services, better infrastructure and building stronger communities.”

Helen Goulden, chief executive of the Young Foundation, said:

“These insights give us a sense of how the climate emergency and Brexit are prioritised by people, compared with local issues that impact communities on a daily basis.  People urgently want to see more investment in their local economies and infrastructure and care for the most vulnerable.”

“Many people feel let down by government, and distant from the world of academia and policy making. The new Institute for Community Studies is relentlessly focused on research that amplifies what really matters to communities, and gets under the skin of how these issues are experienced. By linking elite expertise with the actual experience and knowledge of communities, we will transform our ability to tackle the social problems we face.”

Notes to editors

  1. About the Institute for Community Studies:

The Institute for Community Studies is a new kind of research institute based at the Young Foundation, which places people and communities at its heart. We engage with communities and experts across the UK through innovative research methods to identify and prioritise the top questions that research and policy need to answer for local communities in the UK. For more information, see https://icstudies.org.uk/

  1. About the research

This research was conducted with a nationally representative sample of 2,263 people from communities in the UK between September – November 2019. Responses are gathered online and face-to-face and are unprompted, free-text responses to the question ‘what is the top issue that matters to the future of your community?’, creating a self-generated picture of the highest priority issues. For more information, see https://icstudies.org.uk/insights/blog/looking-local