Skip to content Accessibility statement

Half of people will find it harder to follow lockdown rules the longer it continues, new study shows

Posted on 5 May 2020

Nearly half the people (48 per cent) questioned in a survey about the lockdown said that they will find it harder to follow the rules the longer it continues and almost a third of people admitted to breaking or ‘bending’ the rules.

The study says almost a third of people admitted to breaking or ‘bending’ the rules

The research - from the University of York’s Law School - also found that a factor driving people to comply with the lockdown was a strong sense of owing an obligation to NHS workers (78 per cent) - which rated above the obligation to their families at 76 per cent. 

 Significant problem

The pandemic and ensuing lockdown has left around 21 per cent of people experiencing a significant problem around mental health; 17 per cent around loneliness and 17 per cent about money.

The study – funded by the Nuffield Foundation - was compiled from a representative national survey of 1,700 people to better understand public attitudes to the lockdown. The report is the preliminary findings of an 18-month research project to understand more about how people understand the rules, if they see themselves as compliant, what drives compliance, and how the rules relate to ordinary perceptions of rights.

Other key findings include:

  • Approximately half (52 per cent) indicated they will find it harder to comply should the lockdown rules become stricter against 48 per cent who said they would follow the rules if the lockdown became stricter.
  • While most respondents are following the lockdown rules, a sizeable proportion of them reported failing to observe strict compliance with 31.8 per cent of respondents having broken or ‘bent’ a restriction at least once during the 7-day period preceding the survey.
  • Most people saw the lockdown as violating various ‘rights’ but felt that the violation was acceptable in the circumstances of the current pandemic. 
  • There was a slight lean towards willingness to trade privacy to shorten the length of the lockdown with 54 per cent willing to sacrifice some of their privacy and 39 per cent were not. 

Report author, Dr Joe Tomlinson from York Law School said: “An examination of how the public understand and experience the lockdown, and the significance of these perceptions for compliance, is essential to developing a clear picture of how the lockdown restrictions are working. Understanding the role of law in society, and not only in strict ‘legal’ terms, has rarely been so important.


“Our initial findings suggest that people think they know the rules and are generally willing to comply. They view the interference with their sense of ‘rights’ as broadly justified and, though it might prove difficult, would try to continue to comply with future restrictions, should they be extended or tightened further. However, there is a striking lack of agreement on what is understood as permitted in relation to particular activities. Many also report breaking or bending the rules.”

The report authors are Professor Simon Halliday, Dr Jed Meers, and Dr Joe Tomlinson from York Law School.


Explore more news

Media enquiries

Julie Gatenby
Deputy Head Media Relations (maternity cover)

Tel: +44 (0)1904 322029

About this research

The full report, Law and Compliance during COVID-19: Interim Report 1 Public Attitudes on Compliance with COVID- 19 Lockdown Restrictions can be read here

Explore more of our research 


Our response to the coronavirus pandemic

We're working with partners in York and further afield as part of a global effort to fight the COVID-19 virus. From covid analysis in the labs to producing face shields for the frontline, we're using our knowledge and expertise to support the effort.