Critical Eye Investigation on…cost of living

PART 1: “My husband and I do not eat every day” -aged 55-64, North East

Here at Critical Research, we do a lot of regular tracking market research for companies to keep track of customer experience and brand perceptions. Ongoing research like this is a valuable resource for any business, but it’s important to remember that any research programme will have limits and there will always be things that can influence results coming from the chaos of the outside world. 

In the UK, the national mood of the last few months has been dominated by the cost-of-living crisis with prices of just about everything skyrocketing. However, whilst we can all sense this is the case from looking at our bills and watching the news, it’s hard to be confident that the cost-of-living crisis is having a tangible effect on feelings, attitudes, and decisions without some data to back it up. Fortunately, that’s something we know how to get!

On the 20th, 23rd, and 24th of January, we surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults across the UK and asked them a few questions about if/how the crisis was affecting them, and to put it simply, it is affecting them.

  • When asked how much the cost-of-living crisis affected them on a scale of 1 to 10, our 1,000 adults on average said 7/10.  
  • A third reported struggling to pay their bills and afford basic necessities like groceries or clothing. 
  • Over half say they can’t afford to treat themselves or their families.
  • 6 in 10 say it has impacted their social life and a whopping 79% say they now shop less for non-essential items than they did 12 months ago (rising to 85% in Scotland and 88% in Wales). That means less spent on travel, gifts, clothes, days out, nights out, and so on.

But sometimes numbers don’t really make you feel what’s going on in the same way words do, so we gave our respondents the chance to write in their own words how the cost-of-living crisis was affecting them. Some of the answers were devastating.

There were stories about having to eat less than they normally did…

“My husband and I do not eat every day, and when we do it’s just one meal in the whole day”

-aged 55-64, North East

…about life plans being put on hold…

“We’re in a tiny 1-bed bungalow and were looking to move somewhere with 2 bedrooms so our 8-month-old could soon have her own room, but the prices of rent are way too high”

-aged 18-24, North West

…and some of our older respondents had been pushed into an incredibly dark place…

“I thought I was going to enjoy a simple restful stress-free retirement but sadly it’s the opposite. I feel ready to die now, no real enjoyment left in life” 

-aged 65-74, Wales

Taking a step back and looking at these responses at a macro level through a word cloud, the expected key themes of heating, bills, and the ability to afford come to the top. 

As is typical of word clouds, it’s fairly obvious what most of the words are referring to, but the prominence of the slightly ambiguous feel creates some grey area we need to take a closer look at to understand. Once we took a closer look at responses containing the words I feel, a picture of an anxious population emerged.  

In case there was any doubt, it would be naïve to think the cost-of-living crisis is a passing piece of media hype.  Whether it be choosing to buy slightly fewer non-essential items, or being forced into dramatically altering lifestyles, most people’s relationship with spending has changed as a result, and not just in choices and priorities, but in attitude and feelings. This means organisations and companies need to adjust the way they engage with their audiences or face being left out of touch. 

Click here to read Part 2, where we explore in more detail how the rising cost of living has impacted attitudes and experiences in spending on food and entertainment.

Coming soonpart 3, where we take a look at perceptions of when and why the crisis started.

If you would like to know more or talk to us about how we can help your business please contact Ben Farr.