Brits see cleaner air, stronger social bonds and changing food habits amid lockdown - RSA

Brits see cleaner air, stronger social bonds and changing food habits amid lockdown

Press release

Time for change

Social and environmental changes seen during lockdown – including people valuing food more and noticing cleaner air – should guide future policy, experts urge, as a new poll reveals only 9% of Brits want a total return to “normal” after lockdown.

The newly-released YouGov survey was commissioned by the RSA's Food, Farming and Countryside Commission (FFCC), together with food charity The Food Foundation. 

The poll finds a clear majority (85%) want to see at least some of the personal or social changes they have experienced continue afterwards, while just 9% want a complete return to normal.*

It also identifies significant changes to our relationship with food, family and the environment:

  • 51% say they have noticed cleaner air, and 27% more wildlife, since the lockdown began
  • Social bonds are stronger, with 40% feeling a stronger sense of local community and 39% more in touch with friends and family
  • 42% say the outbreak has made them value food more, and one in ten have shared something like food or shopping with a neighbour for the first time
  • More than 19 million of us (38%) say they are cooking more from scratch and 17 million are throwing away less food (33%). 6%, or 3 million people, have tried a veg box scheme or ordered food from a local farm for the very first time
  • But although 9% feel fitter and 27% are getting more exercise, more people (36%) say they are getting less exercise than before.

See the data visualisation here

The RSA's FFCC commissioned the poll as part of its work to shape a new vision and an action plan for more sustainable food and farming, land use and the rural economy. It follows on from research funded by FFCC and the Food Foundation released over Easter, which shows a sharp rise in food insecurity during lockdown.  

The FFCC is collecting data on the changes taking place in communities and nationally, to gather individual stories and map significant shifts that can inform the UK’s recovery and reconstruction after lockdown. If you are collecting data or commissioning research which covers food, farming and rural communities, please let us know by email [email protected]



Sue Pritchard, Director of the RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, said:

“It’s taken a pandemic to reveal just how fragile our food system is.

“Anyone in the food industry is now a key worker. National food security is a government priority. Yet while many people are going hungry, our dairy farmers can’t sell their milk, and healthy vegetables are left unharvested in the field. This research is showing that important changes are starting to take hold which government must use to guide future policy.”



Professor Tom MacMillan from the Royal Agricultural University, and research lead for the RSA's Commission, said:

“This data shows there is a real appetite for change, and for the nation to learn from this crisis. People are trying new things and noticing differences, at home, in their work and in communities. This is really apparent when it comes to food, farming and the countryside, the issues the Commission is focused on, but clear in other areas too.

"Alongside the emergency response, it is important keep track of these changes in what we’re doing and our collective mood, to help shape the kind of country we want to be, including the way want to feed ourselves, when we recover from this pandemic.”


Anna Taylor, Executive Director of the Food Foundation, said:

“The same poll that revealed this appetite for social change highlighted an alarming and worsening food insecurity crisis, with three million in Britain going hungry since lockdown began. These figures create an imperative for reshaping the food system post-COVID-19 so that it delivers healthy diets for everyone, regardless of how much they earn.”


Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA, said:

"The lockdown is far from over and it’s right that the immediate emergency is the priority, but two things are important to note: firstly that the end of lockdown is ever more likely to be phase than a single event, which will take time to pass; and secondly that, amid the awful news and general doom, we must use this time to imagine a better future. This poll shows that the British people are increasingly aware that the health of people and planet are inseparable and it’s time for radical environmental, social, political and economic change.”





For the full survey details, contact: Ash Singleton, Head of Media and Communications, RSA: [email protected], 07799 737 970.

FFCC’s Research Director, Prof Tom MacMillan is also available for comment on the data interpretation: [email protected]



Survey methodology:

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 4343 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 7th - 9th April 2020.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). Calculations were made by the FFCC using mid-year population estimates. 

*The figures on whether people want things to return (9%) or to change (85%) after the pandemic have been adjusted to include only the respondents (3649) who selected one answer option to this question.


About the RSA:

The RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) is an independent charity which believes in a world where everyone is able to participate in creating a better future.

Through our ideas, research and a 30,000 strong Fellowship, we are a global community of proactive problem solvers, sharing powerful ideas, carrying out cutting-edge research and building networks. We create opportunities for people to collaborate, influence, and demonstrate practical solutions to realise change.

Our work covers a number of areas including the rise of the 'gig economy', robotics & automation; education & creative learning; and reforming public services to put communities in control.


About the RSA Food, Farming & Countryside Commission:

The FFCC is an independent inquiry funded by Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and chaired by Sir Ian Cheshire, to help shape a new vision and a mandate for a just transition to sustainable food and farming systems, to respond to the interconnected crises in climate, nature and public health. It comprises 14 Commissioners drawn from across farming and food businesses, from public health and citizens groups, from environment and countryside groups, and universities. The Commission published its report, Our Future in the Land, in July 2019, to widespread endorsement. Politicians from all parties backed its recommendations.

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