A comprehensive view of Scottish consumers from Which?'s consumer insight tracker and other data sources.
During my time at Which? I’ve quickly recognised that one of our greatest strengths is understanding what consumers want and need. They are at the heart of everything we do and we’re constantly striving for change in the areas where we feel that people deserve better.
Our Consumer Insight reports are a really important step in demonstrating our knowledge base and our understanding of consumers across the UK. For the first time we’ve produced 12 reports covering Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the nine regions of England which highlight the spending habits, optimism, trust and worry of consumers in these areas.
This is a unique body of work, the first of its kind, which has allowed us to compare trends across the UK. As a result of these reports, we know that more people in Yorkshire and the Humber were satisfied with their household income (55%) than the UK average (50%); we also know that more Londoners felt financially squeezed (32%), compared to 27% on average in the UK.
These reports also highlight how the insights we gain from consumers can inform our campaigning. The statistics about connectivity and rail show us the problems people face in different areas of the country, and so it’s no coincidence that we also have major campaigns on these issues to try and make things better for consumers.
This work has been done against a backdrop of potential change with the uncertainty around Brexit a likely influence on political, social and economic landscapes. This may be particularly prominent in Northern Ireland and could have filtered into consumers’ financial perceptions, spending expectations and their level of trust in certain industries.
In 2018, greater transport powers were devolved from Whitehall to some parts of the UK, resulting in the creation of Transport for Wales, which now which now manages rail services across Wales and West England. At the regional level, this devolution led to the establishment of Transport for the North, England's first sub-national Transport Body, empowered to drive strategic transport improvements. Last year the Scottish Government also placed greater focus on consumer need, launching a consultation on the establishment of a new consumer body for Scotland in July.
We continue to build on our insights to deepen our understanding of what consumers want and need, to allow us to prioritise the areas that matter most to them. As well as being fundamental to our understanding of consumer behaviours and feelings, the insights are valuable to all organisations working across the UK who have the power to make things better for their customers. So they are an important tool for our members, supporters, policy makers and businesses alike.
This set of reports are a fine example of how our mission to make consumers more powerful drives everything we do – and always will.
Which? is the largest consumer organisation in the UK with more than 1.3 million members and supporters, over 110,000 of whom live in Scotland. We exist to provide consumers with the knowledge and support they need to feel as powerful as the organisations that they deal with in their daily lives. We seek to achieve change in two ways: first, through running campaigns that make people's lives fairer, simpler and safer, and second, by providing information and advice that empowers people to understand how to get the best value from the most reliable products and services.
Populus, on behalf of Which?, has conducted bi-monthly surveys of more than 2,000 consumers per survey across the UK since 2012 to gauge perception of and attitudes to the consumer landscape, known as the Consumer Insight Tracker. These data are weighted to be demographically representative of the UK population, and are published on consumerinsight.which.co.uk. To understand the key consumer attitudes in 2018, Which? has boosted these data to a minimum of 1,000 representative consumers in each region and nation of the UK. This report is based on a sample of 1,075 respondents from Scotland.
We have supplemented our own data with figures from other organisations to present a more comprehensive comparison between the trends identified in our Consumer Tracker data and the facts around earnings, economic growth and unemployment. In this report, we have made use of data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence (ESCoE), the Resolution Foundation, UK Finance and the Office of Rail and Road (ORR).
The 2019 Consumer Insight Report for Scotland seeks to provide an overview of the trends in optimism, trust and worry felt by Scottish consumers throughout the last year. As in previous years, this report offers a snapshot of how Scottish people feel about their financial future and the trust they have in public services and vital industries like rail and broadband.
Our headline findings suggest that 66% of people in Scotland were satisfied with their standard of living, while 47% said that their financial situation was good, compared with a fifth (21%) who said it was poor. Interestingly, the proportion of people who expected their finances would improve in the next year was very similar to that of people who expected them to worsen (27% to 28% respectively). These figures reflected the UK average.
Although financial optimism was divided between those who foresaw an improvement and those who predicted a decline in their personal finances, there was much greater certainty evidenced in opinions of how the UK economy would fare in the coming year. Indeed, when asked to rate the stability of the national economy, 53% of Scottish consumers expected it to decline over the next 12 months, a figure indicating significant pessimism. The contrasting figures on personal and national finances illustrate that consumers do not necessarily equate a deteriorating national economy with an impact on their household finances, despite the likely impact that this would have.
Furthermore, figures from ESCoE (Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence) demonstrate that 2018 saw the Scottish economy grow at a rate of 1.7% to the UK’s 1.4%, a performance second only to London, which demonstrated 2.9% growth. However, despite both London and Scotland outperforming the UK average, Which? research showed that the proportion of people in Scotland who were optimistic about their household finances for the coming year was the same in Scotland as in the UK (27% to 26%), whereas Londoners were more likely to predict an improvement. These figures suggest that people in Scotland need more than a successful national economy in order to feel confident in their financial future.
Breaking down our data by demographic revealed that age was a key factor influencing how content consumers were with a variety of factors, like their standard of living and leisure time. Over 65s came out as the group where the greatest proportion were content with their household’s living standard (83%), compared with 58% of 30-45 year olds. Similarly, more in this older demographic were satisfied with the amount of leisure time they had (93%), compared with just 51% of 18-29 year olds. This trend was mirrored across the UK, where 82% of over 65s were content with their standard of living and 91% with the amount of leisure time they had.
Beyond looking at financial contentedness, Which?’s research also sought to unpick the spending expectations demonstrated by Scots when asked to consider their expenditure for the year ahead. Consumers here had clear ideas around how they thought their spending might change, with 38% predicting greater outgoings on energy, while 32% thought that they would be paying more for their grocery basket. For many, these increases could be at the expense of more discretionary spending such as socialising, eating out and clothing.
Overall, the top worries for Scottish consumers were energy prices, fuel prices and public spending cuts, with seven in ten worried about each (69%). These worries were also the same three that topped the table for the UK average. At the other end of the scale, fewer Scottish consumers worried about less essential spending compared to the UK average, such as the price of clothes (28%) and the price of electrical goods (31%).
Similarly to our findings last year, the majority of people living in Scotland felt that water companies could be trusted to work in the consumer interest (69%), while just 8% thought that car dealers could be trusted. The figure around water is interesting as it is significantly higher than the UK average trust level of 59% and the UK-low of 57% in England. This may be related to the fact that Scottish Water is publicly-owned, in contrast to the privately-owned water companies in England.
Across our Consumer Insight Report for Scotland, we have found varying degrees of similarity between the perceptions and outlooks held by UK consumers overall and those in Scotland. Using data from the ONS and ESCoE, we can establish a baseline understanding of the Scottish economy as a foundation for our analysis.
Scotland enjoyed a lower rate of unemployment than the UK as a whole at the end of 2018, at a rate of 3.5% compared to 4%. Similarly, 2018 saw the Scottish economy grow at a rate of 1.7% to the UK’s 1.4%. These figures suggest that Scotland’s economy was performing slightly better than the UK’s, coming second only to London, which demonstrated 2.9% growth. However, despite both London and Scotland outperforming the UK average, Which? research showed that a noticeably greater proportion of London-based consumers were optimistic, with 34% believing their finances would improve over the next year, compared with 27% of Scots.
More broadly, this year's survey results suggested that half (47%) of Scots thought that they were in a good financial position, a rise of 2 percentage points on last year's figure and similar to the UK-wide average (49%). However, this trend was not reflected in Scottish perceptions of the UK's economy, with just a fifth (20%) saying that they would describe it as good. This was lower than the UK average, where a quarter of respondents (25%) thought the UK economy was good.
In terms of opinions about likely economic performance for the year ahead, the proportion of people who thought that their finances would improve was nearly identical to the proportion who thought they would get worse (27% and 28% respectively), while just 15% expected an improvement in the UK economy. This trend of greater optimism shown toward household finances than national finances was reflective of the UK more broadly, suggesting that consumers don't necessarily associate a worsening UK economy with negative consequences for their own finances.
Note: Does not sum to 100% due to the exclusion of ‘neither’ and ‘don’t know’
Examining the spending habits of people in Scotland is an important step in understanding consumer priorities. In this section, Which? has analysed ONS Living Costs and Food Surveys for 2015/16 and 2016/17, along with ONS data on relative regional consumer price levels of goods and services for 2016, in order to assess costs and spending in Scotland.
These statistics reveal that consumer expenditure in Scotland averaged £588 a week, noticeably lower than the UK average figure of £647, despite the fact that goods, services and rental and housing prices were on average 0.4% more expensive than the UK average.
The discrepancy in spending levels could be somewhat accounted for by median earnings data from the ONS, where we can see that the figure for Scotland in 2018 was £23,800, to the UK’s £24,006. However, the median earnings figure for Scotland was 0.9% lower than the UK, while prices were 0.4% more expensive, suggesting that, beyond earnings and costs explanations, Scottish households are simply spending less.
Our analysis suggests that, for Scottish households on average, around 30% of all their expenditure was accounted for by housing, utilities and communication, 13% by transport, 30% by groceries, goods and services, and 20% by recreation.
Household spending per week
Deeper analysis of the survey data, for which households kept a detailed diary of their spending over two weeks, allowed a more detailed assessment of spending. The figures below set out the percentage of households in Scotland which bought a variety of commodities and services in an average week.
Proportions of households spending on selected items per week
The figures above suggest that consumers in Scotland were just as likely as the average UK consumer to spend on essential groceries like meat and vegetables. However, people in Scotland were less likely to spend on appliances, with just 5% reporting expenditure on this sort of commodity in a week; the lowest proportion of any region or nation surveyed.
As in last year’s report, we asked people how likely they were to increase or decrease their expenditure on certain goods and services over the next few months. While the majority of respondents intended to keep their spending the same across essential outgoings like housing and transport, there were some clear trends where Scottish residents were expecting to be spending more or less in the months ahead.
The commodities that the largest proportion of Scottish consumers said they were likely to increase their spending on were gas and electricity (38%), running a car (33%) and the weekly food shop (32%) – all essential bills. Conversely, the largest areas of anticipated decreases in spending were socialising and eating out, and clothing, both of which also topped the list for expected spending decreases in last year’s report. These figures mean that there were more consumers in Scotland expecting to increase their spending on energy and food, compared to the UK average.
Interestingly, the two areas where the largest proportion of consumers were likely to keep their spending the same were mobile phone payments (80%) and broadband (76%). This may be because many consumers will be tied to a minimum contract period before they are able to switch telecoms provider, despite the fact that many consumers could benefit from faster broadband speeds at a cheaper price, if they switched to a different package.
We asked people how concerned, if at all, they were about key issues that we believe have the potential to impact consumers. We calculated an overall figure for worry by combining the figure for the proportion of people who were either ‘fairly’ worried or ‘very’ worried about the issues outlined below.
Overall, the cost of daily essentials such as energy and fuel prices and the impacts of public spending cuts were identified as worries held by the largest proportion of consumers, attracting significant worry (69% apiece). Conversely, fewer were worried about the price of their house falling, with less than a quarter (24%) citing their concern on this issue.
Over half of respondents said they were worried about banking and everyday finance issues. For example, 57% of Scottish residents were worried about future levels of taxation and the value of their pension, while 47% were concerned about their mortgage rate. More 18-29 year olds were worried about mortgage rates (60%) than the Scottish average, while fewer over 65s were worried (19%). Notably, fewer 18-29 year olds were worried about energy prices (57%) than the Scottish average but more were worried about the ease of travelling around the EU (61%), compared with the Scottish average of 41%. These figures indicate that age is a clear influence on consumer concern.
Top 10 consumer worries in Scotland
We asked people to set out the extent to which they trusted certain providers of public services to act in the best interest of the consumer or recipient. The figures below show the proportion of people who said they ‘trust’ these providers of public services, ranging from education to healthcare.
The range for this set of figures was large, with general practitioners coming out on top as the provider of a public service trusted by the greatest proportion of consumers, with a figure of 80%. Furthermore, there are multiple public services in Scotland which more consumers trust providers to act in their best interests than the UK average, including health services, universities and social care.
Percentage who trust the following:
Again, responses varied by age. For example, 88% of over-65s trusted GPs, while more 18-34 year olds trusted the college system (53%) and universities (53%) to act in their best interest. Interestingly, half of this age group have undertaken studies at university level or higher (53%), compared with the Scottish average of two in five (39%). This implies that those who have experienced higher education first-hand are more likely to trust these institutions.
In addition to understanding the perceptions of Scottish consumers relating to public markets, we also sought to gauge their attitudes to certain sectors and industries, asking whether respondents trusted these industries to act in their best interests.
In the rankings, trust varied across all of the sectors and industries that we surveyed opinions against. As in last year’s report, water came out as the most trusted industry, with 69% of Scottish people believing that water suppliers act in their best interest. This figure compared to car dealers who came out worst, whom just 8% of Scottish consumers trusted.
Beyond water suppliers, our evidence suggests that a smaller proportion of Scottish residents demonstrate trust in certain sectors when compared to the UK average. For example, 39% said they trusted day-to-day banking services, a figure which despite its place in the ‘top 5’ rankings, is lower than the figure across the rest of the UK (45%). This could reflect the growing problem that consumers have in accessing cash and other essential bank branch services, particularly in rural areas. This is an issue that Which? will continue to campaign on in the year ahead1.
Percentage who trust the following:
When compared with a UK average, it appears that more Scottish consumers trusted the water industry, the trust scores for which varied across the nations of the UK:
Percentage who trust the water industry:
Our findings around trust are interesting as they suggest that (in addition to other factors, such as price, level of industry regulation, and familiarity with the purchase process) consumers might be less trusting of transactions they make with industries where there is an imbalance of knowledge between the consumer and provider. For example, a car dealer is likely to know far more about the performance and value of a vehicle they are selling than the average consumer, just as an estate agent may know more about a property and the process of renting or buying a home. This is where Which? seeks to provide consumers with the information they need to deal more confidently in these transactions.
Identifying trends of financial difficulty is a key output from Which?’s Consumer Insight Tracker2. In our measure there are five signs of financial difficulty that we monitor, ranging from the least severe (cutting back only) through to the most severe (defaulting on a loan, bill, mortgage, or rent payment). As such, Which? asked people whether their household had experienced some form of financial squeeze within the past few months which might have necessitated them taking one of these actions, in order to reduce the pressure. We then supplemented our own survey results with the findings of the Resolution Foundation’s ‘Low Pay Britain 2018’ report to add context of the extent to which respondents’ experience of squeeze forms part of a broader trend of financial difficulty in Scotland.
The results showed that more than a quarter of Scots were experiencing some degree of financial difficulty (28%) and of those, more than one in five had defaulted on a loan, bill, mortgage or rent payment. For context, ONS data from the Resolution Foundation’s report suggests that a fifth (20%) of Scottish workers are earning less than the Living Wage3. This compared to the UK wide figure of 23%.
Our measure of financial difficulty in Scotland decreased steeply with age, with the over 65 age group much less likely to have experienced any financial difficulty (13%), as compared to 18-29 year olds, of whom 38% reported resorting to at least one of the actions identified in our survey.
The figures below are taken from our Consumer Insight Tracker data on financial difficulty and demonstrate how those experiencing financial squeeze sought to reduce the pressure.
The 5 levels of financial difficulty
Note: These are proportions for those experiencing at least one form of financial difficulty, not overall prevalence.
2. The Financial Distress Index estimates the extent to which the households in an area are experiencing financial difficulty relative to all other areas. Areas are ranked out of 100, where 100 is most distressed and 1 is least, and these figures articulate how financially squeezed respondents are feeling.
Which? surveyed 14,138 people between January and December 2018 and asked them about their financial experiences. The most severe financial difficulty they had faced in the past month determined their 'Financial Squeeze' group.
Estimates of financial distress were then calculated for each 2011 Output Area Classification group, then extrapolated down to individual output areas. Averages at the higher level geographies were calculated and weighted by Census 2011 household population estimates.
Please note these statistics are estimates, and are not directly measured from the survey.
3. By Living Wage, we refer to the voluntary rate set by the Living Wage Foundation as a minimum standard to cover living costs rather than the government's compulsory 'National Living Wage’. At the time of writing, UK rates are £9/hr and £10.55/hr in London.
We combined our Consumer Insight Tracker data on financial distress with the ONS’ 2011 Output Area Classification data to estimate the extent to which households in each constituency and region were experiencing financial difficulty relative to other areas. We also sought to understand whether the trends of financial strain could be better understood by examining the financial realities of people living in Scotland, using earnings data published by the ONS4, and UK Finance personal loans data5 for Scottish constituencies. Across Scotland, the median figure for annual earnings was £23,800 compared to £24,006 for the UK as a whole, while the proportion of outstanding personal loan values to total earnings of those in employment was 3.7% for Scotland, compared with 3.9% for the UK.
Our analysis shows that all five of the most financially squeezed constituencies in Scotland are located in Glasgow, three of which also place in the rankings of the lowest median earnings (Glasgow North East, South West and East). Many of the least financially squeezed constituencies were those located in more rural, less urban areas like West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, and Na h-Eileanan an Iar. Therefore, the analysis suggests that, although earnings are a good barometer of financial position, they do not take into account other factors like those associated with the pressures of urban living (for example, a higher cost of living) that might also contribute to an experience of financial strain. We publish our consumer tracker estimates annually for both UK and Scottish parliamentary constituencies.
4. ONS ASHE annual gross earnings 2018 (interim)
5. UK Finance data on outstanding £ values of personal loans by postcode sector, aggregated into parliamentary constituencies, Q2, 2018
Map 1: Financial difficulty for Westminster Constituencies in Scotland
Map 2: Most financially squeezed constituency, Glasgow North East
Map 3: Least financially squeezed constituency West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine
Which? campaigns consistently on a number of issues as part of our mission to uncover consumer detriment and push for positive change. As a result of our work, we can share insights into the unique experience of Scottish consumers with both their broadband coverage and the rail service.
As part of our Fix Bad Broadband campaign, we offer consumers a broadband speed-checker tool, inviting people to identify their service speed and enabling us to analyse the consumer experience of broadband connections across the UK.
The UK government has identified a download speed of 10Mbps as the minimum speed required to fully participate in digital society. The new broadband universal service obligation (USO) will provide consumers with a legal right to request a broadband connection with a download speed of at least 10Mbps6. Ofcom has responsibility for implementing the USO, and it should be in place by 2020.
According to Ofcom’s Connected Nations 2018 Scotland report, around 4% of premises in Scotland cannot access a decent fixed broadband service that delivers a download speed of at least 10 Mbps and an upload speed of at least 1 Mbps. This has improved from 6% last year. Ofcom’s broadband speed measures are the maximum possible at residential premises, with the data supplied to Ofcom by providers. Which?’s own data for 20,780 users of our speed-checker across Scotland in 2018 shows that, for those consumers, speeds were much more likely to fall below the 10Mbps USO threshold. Indeed, 39% of user tests fell short of this speed level.
According to Which? data, consumers living in predominantly rural areas, like Orkney and Shetland, Moray, and Argyll and Bute faced particularly poor download speeds, while those located in urban areas like West Dunbartonshire on the outskirts of Glasgow were much better served, but even then 21% of user tests fell below the USO level.
Proportion of consumer broadband speed tests achieving 10Mbps or above
Which? publishes an annual Rail Satisfaction Survey, a poll that seeks consumer insight on a range of factors affecting their train travel, from punctuality to seat availability which contribute to an overall customer score7.
Of those train companies operating in Scotland, either internally or as a cross-border service, Virgin Trains came out on top with a customer score of 57%, whereas ScotRail, which operates routes that begin and end in Scotland, scored just 45%. According to the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), 3.1% of ScotRail services were cancelled in the 2017-2018 period. This compares to 3.2% of London North Eastern Railway (LNER) services, 3.6% of CrossCountry and Virgin Trains West Coast services and 5% of TransPennine Express services.
In addition to our Rail Satisfaction Survey, in 2018 Which? also undertook an analysis of two months of ORR data and found that fewer than half of rail passengers were satisfied with how their complaints were dealt with by train companies. Of the train-operating companies that provide services within Scotland, CrossCountry had the highest scores for both complaint handling (49%) and complaint outcome (47%). This performance was followed by ScotRail’s significantly lower 31% for complaints handling and 23% satisfaction score for complaint outcome. For TransPennine and LNER, 21% were satisfied with how their complaint was handled and 20% with the outcome.
Both the cancellation rates set out by the ORR and our data on satisfaction with complaints handling explain how the rail industry still has some way to go in recognising passengers as consumers, as we called for in our super-complaint of 2015. This is why we will continue to call for a railway that works for passengers and not just the industry through our Train Pain campaign.
To find out more, visit our Consumer Insight page at consumerinsight.which.co.uk, where you can access our latest research on a range of issues, and detailed data on consumer attitudes, perceptions and concerns broken down to the constituency level across the UK.
6. The minimum technical standard for connections made under the USO will be: minimum download speed of 10Mbps; minimum upload speed of 1Mbps; additional quality parameters: medium response times, a minimum data cap pf 100GB and a contention rate of 50:1 (i.e. a maximum of 50 users share one bandwidth)
7. The customer score is based on satisfaction with the brand and likelihood to recommend. Satisfaction and recommendation contribute 50% each to the overall customer score, and a respondent must answer both questions for their answers to contribute towards a customer score. For both satisfaction and recommendation, we apply a weighting to each response.