Coronavirus rapidly eclipsed Brexit as a source of concern about the economic health of the UK, according to insights gathered from the Bank of England’s Citizens’ Panels.
The Bank established panels across the UK - including a North West panel Chaired by Alliance Manchester Business School’s Head Professor Fiona Devine CBE - to hear directly from citizens about their experiences of life in the economy.
Over the last 18 months, hundreds of people have used the panels to share their views and quiz Bank officials.
The North West panel met twice in that period in Oldham and Liverpool.
Topics discussed at the panels included inflation, inequality, financial literacy, employment and pay, attitudes to debt and saving, climate change, and the housing market. Uncertainty and insecurity were highlighted as key themes.
Participants pointed to Brexit, the 2019 general election and the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak as the major sources of uncertainty.
These issues contributed to worries about job security, especially for people on lower incomes, despite very low levels of unemployment during most of the period.
Some panel members also explained how they had been reluctant to commit to major spending decisions.
Although COVID-19 occurred at the end of the research period, it quickly eclipsed Brexit as a source of uncertainty for panel members.
Panellists expected COVID-19 to have a large and lasting impact on the economy and society more broadly. Some expected changes in consumer behaviour to continue for a period beyond the lockdown.
The findings from the citizens’ panels are contained in a report written by the independent chairs of the 12 panels across the UK including AMBS’ Fiona Devine.
It is based on findings from 23 meetings of panel members and an online forum.
Almost 500 people from a range of backgrounds attended the meetings which included detailed discussions about various aspects of the economy and Q&A sessions. The online forum currently has more than 550 members.
Panel meetings were attended by the Bank’s Agents around the UK plus senior staff including Governors and Executive Directors.
The North West panels’ were attended by Deputy Governor Joanna Place and Executive Director Sarah Breeden.
The panels were introduced as part of a wide-ranging set of initiative to improve the way the Bank communicates with people across the UK.
As well as the citizens’ panels, the Bank now also regularly runs community forums delivered with charity partners and targeted at harder-to-reach groups, and a youth forum for those aged 16-25.
Governor Andrew Bailey said: “There is no doubt that the effectiveness of the Bank depends on public understanding, and that understanding depends on the effectiveness of the Bank’s communications.
“The Bank has made very major progress in communicating more directly and widely with the people it serves, including through initiatives like the citizens' panels, and can rightly be seen as a leader among central banks.”
North West Citizens’ Panel chair Fiona Devine said: “I was thrilled to be invited to chair the North West Citizen’s Panels for the Bank of England.
“The opening decades of the 21st century have witnessed tumultuous events including the great financial crisis and now the COVID-19 pandemic. It had never been more important for public bodies like the Bank of England to understand people’s everyday anxieties and concerns, expectations and aspirations in order to serve them well.
“It has been an honour to be involved in this very important initiative.”
The Bank’s Chief Economist Andy Haldane, who attended panel events in Derry/Londonderry, Hull and Leicester, said: “These panels were designed to provide the Bank with a new lens on the UK economy – an alternative perspective to the data, surveys and the insights we gather predominantly from businesses through our Agency network. And they have done just that.
“I attended three panels and was truly impressed by the level of engagement, the quality of the discussions, and the challenging questions we were asked by our panel members.
“We have heard from a diverse range of voices about a diverse range of subjects and these insights have helped me to better understand how people across the UK have been feeling about the economy during what has been a pretty tumultuous and eventful period.”
The Bank is continuing to recruit panel members to take part in future events across the UK which will be organised when it is safe to do so. In the meantime panel members are being encouraged to share their views using an online forum. To register, visit www.bankofengland.co.uk/get-involved/citizens-panels