Diary of a nation

Life in lockdown

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Six months ago, lockdown measures were introduced in Great Britain to slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Throughout the pandemic, we have been asking people about their opinions and behaviours, and for the first time we present people’s experiences in their own words.

March 2020

Whilst in self-isolation, my life is on hold.

Lockdown measures were first introduced on 23 March. While this created huge changes for many, with schools, workplaces and all non-essential retailers being ordered to close, more than half of adults surveyed at the time said they thought life would be back to normal within six months. By late August, "more than a year" was the most popular response, with over a third (37%) of adults saying they thought this is how long the pandemic would last.  

The proportion of people who thought it would be more than a year before life returns to normal increased throughout lockdown

  1. Question: “How long do you think it will be before your life returns to normal?” Base population: all adults.
Data download

Many people were unsure, and uncertainty remained a consistent theme:

Lack of any idea about when and how things might "return to normal".

Uncertainty ahead. No vaccine ready. Not being able to go out with the kids to do basic things such as the park, cinema, or walk around.

April 2020

I miss being able to hug the people that I love and can't be with. Skype is great, but it's not the same.

In the first two weeks of April, half of adults said their well-being was being affected by the pandemic. By this time, many had been confined to their homes, except for essential shopping and exercise, for several weeks.

Alongside this, the number of death registrations involving COVID-19 was at its highest: the number of weekly deaths in England and Wales recorded by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) was 8,758 on the week ending 17 April. In the same week, lockdown measures were extended for a further three weeks. 

Levels of anxiety and happiness saw the greatest change when lockdown was introduced, compared with pre-pandemic levels.

  1. Question: "How anxious did you feel yesterday? Where 0 is ‘not at all’ and 10 is ‘completely’". Base population: all adults.
  2. Question: "How happy did you feel yesterday? Where 0 is ‘not at all’ and 10 is ‘completely’". Base population: all adults.
  3. Pre-COVID levels are values from February 2020
Data download

Compared to pre-pandemic levels, happiness was lower and anxiety was higher, and many comments from respondents reflect this.

I'm at the wrong end of life to have quality and length of life stolen.

[I am] very unhappy and stressed, can't see any end to this.

Throughout April, more than three-quarters of adults said that staying in touch with family and friends remotely, helped them to cope. 

Video calling family made 100% difference to my life.

Initially 45% of adults said they were worried about the future, with other common reasons being boredom, feeling stressed or anxious, or feeling lonely.

Am unable to do any of the things which normally fill my life and keep loneliness at bay, i.e. visiting friends, shopping, visiting places of interest, seeing children.

Have no social life as can't see my son or friends so feeling isolated and lonely.

Worry about the future was the most common factor impacting people’s well-being during the pandemic

  1. Question: “In the past seven days, how has your well-being being affected?”. Base population: all adults.
  2. Respondents were able to select more than one option. There were further response options available, and the chart shows the most common responses across the weeks.
Data download

While many struggled, some people saw improvements to their well-being, and others reported an increased sense of community spirit, with 80% of adults saying they thought people were doing more to help others since the outbreak:

It's not affecting me at all really. I enjoy my own company, gardening, reading, baking and walking my two dogs. Life's pretty good.

The village has organised volunteers who will help if needed.

May 2020

The expectation from our employers is high and there is very little time to help our twins. It is very stressful, and I feel incredibly guilty.

Between 7 May and 7 June 2020, 87% of parents said a child in their household had been homeschooled because of the coronavirus. 

Only half of adults said they felt confident in their abilities to homeschool, 43% said homeschooling was negatively affecting their child’s well-being, and 36% said homeschooling was putting a strain on their relationships.

At the end of May, 39% of parents reported that their children were struggling to continue their education at home, and this rose to 60% by mid-June. The most common reasons given were a lack of motivation, and a lack of parents’ time to provide support.

My wife is struggling to teach our daughter while I'm working. It is extremely stressful, there are constant rows and awful behaviour.

Only one child was allowed to go back to school, so rather than adding additional strain to the school, we kept her home with her sisters.

My child is not motivated to self-direct her learning and her education is really suffering.

For some, the experience of homeschooling was more positive:

I've actually really enjoyed having my family home and homeschooling our kids.

June 2020

I still don't feel safe when I go outside, not everyone keeps their distance.

As lockdown measures eased across the country during May, June and July, many people were able to spend more time outdoors and socialise with loved ones.

The number of people meeting up with others and visiting pubs or restaurants rose throughout the summer

Proportion of people who said they’d left home in the last seven days for different reasons 

  1. Question: “In the past seven days, for what reasons have you left your home?”. Base population: all adults.
  2. Respondents were able to select more than one option. There were further response options available, and the chart shows the most common responses relating to socialising and travel.
Data download

At this time of changing restrictions, people were less certain, with the proportion of adults that said they had enough information about the UK’s plans for dealing with the virus at its lowest (41%) on the weekend following the first easing of lockdown measures in England in mid-May. 

While individuals’ freedoms increased, the dangers presented by the virus were still clear to see, with deaths registered in England and Wales involving COVID-19 reaching a total of 50,000 in the week up to 26 June. Seeing others going out and socialising could have also intensified feelings of loneliness and anxiety for those still staying at home or self-isolating, as loneliness rose in mid-June, with one in five people reporting feeling lonely.  

My neighbour has little to no regard for the rules and frequently has large gatherings of people breaking social distancing, drinking together outside my home.

I felt nervous when going into an enclosed space such as the garden centre. I have lost a bit of self-confidence about being near other people in case they don't respect social distancing.

For others, the problem was spending too much time with others in their household. By June, the proportion of adults reporting a strain on their personal relationships was at its highest at 15%.

I have absolutely no me time and it feels like wall to wall family time. 


Cooped up with 2 young children, not being able to have a break from them.

July 2020

[I wear a face mask] while putting the bins out. Literally whenever I leave the house for any reason.

The use of face coverings was made mandatory at different times across Great Britain, and the proportion of adults reporting having worn a face covering in the last seven days increased in line with when they became a requirement. 

More people reported having worn face coverings in public places following regulations being introduced 

The proportion of people reporting having worn a face covering in public in the last seven days, by country

  1. Question: “In the past seven days, have you used a face covering when outside your home to help slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19)?” Base population: Adults who have left their home in the past 7 days.
  2. It became mandatory to wear face coverings on public transport in England on 15 June, in Scotland on 22 June and in Wales on 27 July.
  3. Face coverings were made mandatory in shops in Scotland on 10 July, in England on 24 July and in Wales on 14 September.
Data download

At the end of July, 82% of adults said they strongly support, or tend to support, the mandatory wearing of face coverings. However some people also displayed concerns:

I now have shopping delivered, because I DON'T want to wear a mask.

Missing human touch and general interaction affected by mask wearing – missing a lot of communication and connection as a result.

August 2020

I'm worried if I have to close my coffee shop again, I won't be able to afford to reopen.

The effect on the economy came to light in August, when figures showed the UK had entered a recession in Quarter 2 (Apr to June) of 2020, with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) falling by a record 20.4%. 

The main ways adults reported that the coronavirus pandemic was affecting their household finances were reduced income, struggling to pay bills, struggling to save, and using savings to cover living costs. At the end of August, a quarter of adults reported they expect that the financial position of their household will get a little or a lot worse over the next 12 months. 

I have not got the money to do the things I did before lockdown. I doubt I will be able to go to work until there is a vaccine for Covid-19 so I am struggling with money.

Throughout the summer, many were "returning to work". By August, more than half of working adults reported travelling into work, compared with just 36% in late May.  

Over half of working adults were travelling to work by the end of August

Location of work in the last week, Great Britain, May to August 2020

  1. Base population: working adults. This definition is different to some other surveys and is included in the notes.
  2. 'Travelled to work, at least sometimes' includes those who exclusively travel to work, and travel to work in combination with working from home.
Data download

Those who have been able to work from home throughout the pandemic have reported both positive and negative impacts: 

I'm saving more money (due to not commuting and not shopping for non-essentials as much or spending on social activities)

My employer has opened the office but I have no desire to increase my risk of exposure in this environment unless it is compulsory, which it is not.

Very very slow internet speed and number of people working from home makes connecting and staying connected very hard.

Many comments from those who did return to the workplace reflected how this was far from a return to normal. 

I am too anxious to go to work and be exposed to many people at once. Despite special measures being in place I still feel very vulnerable whilst there.

My work is far more stressful and my workload is far higher due to my employer not being able to bring enough people back to work due to social distancing.

September 2020

I am worried about the school's ability to maintain social distancing.

Children in Scotland returned to school in late August, and as September approached, many parents in England and Wales were looking ahead to the new school term.

Over half of parents said they were very or somewhat worried about the young people in their household returning to school.

58% of parents said they were either very or somewhat worried about children in their household returning to school or college for the autumn term, 12-16 August

  1. Question: “How worried or unworried are you about the children or young people in your household returning to school or college when the new term begins?” Base population: Those with dependent children who will be school age in the new (September) term.
Data download

The most common concern among parents was their child catching COVID-19, and some expressed other worries:

My son was too anxious and did not like the new bubble system as he was not with his friends.

My daughter is just starting school, I'm worried that settling in will be affected.

Students at college or school also described the impact on their education:

I can go to college to do partial work, but by appointment only, it's not the same.

I've had my A-Level exams cancelled and have no idea how the start of Uni will happen in September.

Some parents spoke positively about their children’s return to school:

No worries [about to returning to school.] Children attended school through lockdown. School were amazing dealing with everything and keeping children in bubbles, I have every confidence this will be the same in September.

Looking ahead

We need to tackle rising inequality which the pandemic has thrown into sharp relief e.g. hitting BAME communities harder than others.

Following five months of restrictions, in August a third of adults said that the coronavirus pandemic was the most important issue facing Britain today.

In late August, the coronavirus pandemic was seen by a third of people as the most important issue facing Britain, followed by the economy

  1. Question: “What do you see as the most important issue facing Britain today?” Base population: All adults.
Data download

Other important issues included the economy and inequality.

Inequality is the most important issue facing Britain today.

Worry for the future economy which will have big implications on young people.

Some people have reported positive impacts resulting from the pandemic. These include cleaner air and less pollution, saving money through not commuting or going out, and having more time for hobbies and interests.

I don't spend money as freely because I can't. I appreciate the little things that matter more.

My diet has got a lot better due to home cooking proper food instead of pizzas.

I have tackled some tasks that might otherwise have been left undone.

In June, around a quarter of adults said they planned to make big changes to their life after the country has recovered from the pandemic – the most popular ones being changes to work, relationships or where they live. People also said they wanted to continue exercising more, and travel more after the pandemic.

My well-being is very positive as I have exercised more and am now much fitter.

I am enjoying a more thoughtful and engaging lifestyle and still enjoying everyday.

As the pandemic continues, there are concerns for how long it will last:

Concerned that there will be another outbreak and will affect my family and friends.

I am cautious and inhibited to expand social activity further by threat of a "second wave" of the virus emerging, and consider the threat to be very real.

The pandemic has affected the lives of Britain in an unprecedented way, and while it is not yet clear when life will "return to normal", we’ll continue to monitor people’s opinions and behaviours to understand the impact on our lives.


We have used the results from the weekly Opinions and Lifestyle Survey. The free text quotes were collected as responses to multi-response variables, where individuals could tick multiple response options. Respondents could select “other” and then type a response into the free text box. Therefore, these responses reflect those who were motivated to select “other” and write their opinion or views, and they may not reflect the full range of possible views or opinions.

Throughout the article, we have referred to “adults” as those who are aged 16 to 69 years. “Working adults” are those who had a paid job, either as an employee or self-employed, did any casual work for payment, or did any unpaid or voluntary work in the previous week.

ONS weekly death figures provide provisional counts of the number of deaths registered in England and Wales for which data are available. The death figures mentioned in this release are the number of deaths involving coronavirus (COVID-19), based on any mention of COVID-19 on the death certificate. That is, where COVID-19 or suspected COVID-19 was mentioned anywhere on the death certificate, including in combination with other health conditions.