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15 August 2023

Stevenage Woman needs a holiday

British voters find it harder to take a restful break than five years ago.

By Anoosh Chakelian

Forget the Reagan Question, how about the Ryan(air) Question? We wanted to find out how easy members of the British public find it to take a holiday compared with five years ago, and whether it was enough for them to feel rested. In exclusive polling for the New Statesman by Redfield & Wilton Strategies, most told us they find it harder now.

The largest proportion of respondents, 40 per cent, said they find it harder, compared with 30 per cent who felt it is about the same level of difficulty, and 24 per cent who find it easier (5 per cent didn’t know).

We also found that around a quarter of Brits now find it harder, over the same time period, to do physical exercise or sport (27 per cent), socialise outside the home (26 per cent), go on a day trip (25 per cent) and do their hobbies (24 per cent).

[See also: The politics of free time]

Rising bills and prices, alongside stagnant real wages, are robbing Brits of disposable income and free time. Focus groups are picking up on a pattern of people struggling to treat themselves. I saw this myself at a recent focus group of undecided voters in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, a Tory-Labour marginal of “disillusioned suburbanites” central to Labour’s electoral chances. (Its archetypal target voter has been christened “Stevenage Woman”.)

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I watched participants lament how they were no longer able to put money aside each month to save for holidays, and that they never imagined they would be worrying about energy bills – let alone the “luxuries in life”. They dreamed of a life that now felt out of reach: “travelling the world”, “doing exciting activities”, “seeing beautiful things” and even just “going to the countryside”.

At another focus group in Workington, Cumbria (home to the “Workington Man” demographic of middle-aged, working-class Brexiteers who determined the 2019 election by voting Tory), participants spoke about how limited their horizons had become. They used to be able to enjoy holidays, luxuries and just spending time with family – now, they were focusing on simply “getting by”.

As the New Statesman discovered in 40 years of time-use diaries earlier this year, the UK has suffered a four-decade decline in socialising alongside a loss and fragmentation of leisure time. The cost-of-living crisis is exacerbating this trend – something politicians should address when they return from their own summer break.

Redfield & Wilton Strategies polled a weighted sample of 1,500 eligible voters in Great Britain on 9-10 August 2023 for the New Statesman.

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