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A look at the biggest social issues facing the UK

22nd February 2017


To mark the start of 2017 the Grayling Social Affairs team conducted an in-depth analysis of social issues reporting and social media commentary post-Brexit to identify which issues were concerning UK residents most.

These themes are likely to continue to dominate throughout this year, giving organisations the opportunity to join the conversation and, importantly, to offer solutions. Here’s a brief rundown of our top 5 social issues of 2017:

1. Hate

Cybercrime, hate crime and bullying all featured heavily in the media during the latter part of 2016. Increases in violent crime and hate crime were reported in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote. With the internet as the next crime frontier, the government announced £1.9bn of spending on cyber-defences, and more recently announced that it will fund research into social media hate crime in the wake of Brexit, with companies including Google, Facebook and Twitter also coming under pressure to remove hate speech. Growing out of this ‘people power’ is on the rise, showing that among the perceived doom and gloom there is an appetite for shared action and purpose.‚Äč

2. Mental health

Media coverage of mental health stories included children’s mental health, workplace discrimination, depression during pregnancy and high suicide rates in young men. This showed a real shift to end the stigma around talking about mental health, and with the Royals entering the space too we can expect this issue to remain firmly on the agenda.

3. Climate change

Pollution and pollution-related deaths gained traction with UK media, with coverage criticising political figures for not doing enough and even accusing the government of burying its own report. On the positive side, small-scale innovations going on around the country were also reported. Expect to see brands across all sectors appealing to the sustainability-conscious; Yorkshire Tea recently committed to planting 1M trees over 5 years and housing association London & Quadrant’s (cl) eco-development The Quarry will incorporate solar energy, living roof terraces and cycle routes.  

4. Obesity

Many stories on obesity during 2016 were childhood focused, with strong links to wider issues of escalating diabetes rates and the dangers of sugar. Large retailers started to reformulate their soft drinks in anticipation of the ‘sugar tax’ (implementation due April 2018), so expect some ‘healthy competition’ from brands in this space. There’s likely to be further pressure in the fight to cut adult obesity; governments around the world are expected to report a 0% increase in obesity by 2025 to hit the World Health Organization (WHO) target of reducing premature mortality from non-communicable diseases by 25% by 2025.

5. The NHS

Media coverage related to the NHS ‘in crisis’ peaked during the first weeks of 2017 and doesn’t seem to have quietened down since. There are concerns that the 44 sustainability and transformation plans (STP) designed to make improvements to health and social care around England will actually mean loss of services. Linked to this is the issue of our ageing population and the crisis in adult social care, with the Local Government Association reporting a funding shortfall despite planned tax increases.

It’s a crowded landscape but will continue to make headlines, presenting opportunities for innovations that can help to reduce pressure on services. One such example is med-tech company Global Kinetics (cl), which has developed a wrist-watch style device for people with Parkinson’s.


Victoria Mayman

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