Cost of living is a ticking time bomb for public health

28/08/2023
Mark Diffley, Founder and Director of Diffley Partnership

RESEARCH SHOWS extreme cost-saving behaviours in how Scots shop, eat and live are likely to have a disastrous long-term effect on the nation’s health.

  • Rising cost of living continues to dominate public and economic priorities. Around half (48%) say this is a top issue facing Scotland. Two-thirds (67%) say this is a top issue for the Scottish economy.
  • In response, Scots report that they are shopping around, changing brands or shops, and buying reduced food to cope with rising prices.
  • But many are engaging in extreme cost-saving behaviours, which may have disastrous health consequences:
    • 1 in 7 (15%) are skipping meals
    • 1 in 4 (24%) are buying fewer fruits and vegetable
    • 1 in 4 (25%) are choosing foods that require no or little cooking such as pot noodles
    • More than 1 in 4 (27%) are consuming more packaged or processed foods instead of fresh alternatives.
  • These changes have serious public health consequences and risk exacerbating pre-existing inequalities, as working class hit hard by rising prices; over 1 in 5 (22%) of those in social grades C2DE report that their finances are much worse now than a year ago.
  • Scots remain sceptical and pessimistic about Scotland’s economy and direction. Over a third (38%) say that economic conditions are much worse now than a year ago, down from almost half (46%) in May, and over half (56%) believe that things in Scotland are headed in the wrong direction.
  • Large swathes of the population remain dissatisfied with the actions and support offered by UK and Scottish Government, local authorities, energy companies and the Bank of England. Over 80% feel that these actors have done too little to help people cope with rising prices.
  • Despite the dominance of cost of living, Scots continue to emphasise many priorities, including healthcare and the NHS (46%) and poverty and inequality (18%). The economy as a priority is down 4 percentage points to 18%, and the environment and climate change is up by 8 percentage points since the last survey in May to also be at 18%.

This wave of the Understanding Scotland: Economy tracker survey was produced in partnership between the David Hume Institute and the Diffley Partnership. The survey gathers economic attitudes and insights from more than 2,000 members of the Scottish adult population every 3 months to track changes over time. 

Mark Diffley, Founder and Director of Diffley Partnership, said:

“Broadly speaking, our latest data confirms that the public is still gripped by the costs of living crisis, both in terms of its importance as an issue of concern and in how it continues to impact on our behaviour and levels of pessimism about the future. Chinks of light do exist but they are emerging slowly and are clearly shallow. It is true that, compared to last year, a smaller proportion of Scots think economic conditions will continue to get significantly worse; however, the underlying trend remains, including the fact that the economic crisis continues to have greatest impact on the most economically vulnerable and it feels like it still has a long way to run.”

Susan Murray, Director of the David Hume Institute said:

“More than one in four people are still losing sleep over their finances. Healthy food choices are slipping out of reach for significant numbers of comparatively wealthy people. Our data shows that the people needed to drive a thriving economy are struggling with the basics in life. This stores up health problems for the future and, combined with widespread pessimism about the future of Scotland’s economy, are persistent trends that should not be ignored.”

Understanding Scotland is a quarterly survey tool measuring the most important facets of our lives and decision-making in Scotland: our society, economy, and environment developed by Diffley Partnership and Charlotte Street Partners. Understanding Scotland: Economy is produced in partnership with the David Hume Institute.

The full report can be found here:

Understanding Scotland Report Wave 8 (understanding-scotland.co.uk)

The David Hume Institute is hosting a free public event to discuss the findings of the report tomorrow [Tuesday 29th August]. Further details can be found here.

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