Welcome to Ipsos MORI’s review of 2015

I’m writing this in the aftermath of the brutal and tragic Paris attacks, which served as a reminder that random terror is now a seemingly permanent fixture of the 21st century. In a world that is evermore prosperous, globalised and interlinked, inequality and religious divides seem as permanent as ever.

Even though the British are worried, Britain remains a relatively safe and prosperous country – and our anxieties are sometimes as imagined as real. The West now has to find a response that weakens rather than strengthens terrorist movements, and that preserves our values of free speech, tolerance and liberal humanism, while addressing the underlying causes of tension. The public believe the world is getting more dangerous, reflecting what they hear and see in the media. In fact, more people die by committing suicide than all crime and terror put together. Mental health and well-being remain huge challenges in a world where the economy grows every year.

The British remain relatively cheerful about the economy, despite storm clouds in emerging markets like Brazil and China. We are finally seeing real wage growth, but we are uncertain about the future. Domestically, 2015 has seen record concern about immigration and housing in Britain. While concern over immigration is fairly evenly spread throughout Britain, and no party is expected to be able to do much about it, concern about housing varies dramatically; in London it’s the most pressing issue of all, but in the North of England only 8% see it as a key problem.

In business the year saw rising confidence, and pressures for rapid innovation remaining unchanged. As we examine here, the media, banking and retailing are all undergoing a revolution. Last year we talked about the arrival of mobile payments – I’m now typing this on a tube journey which I paid for with my mobile; Apple Pay arrived this summer.

In our world as researchers, observing and watching are – partially – replacing asking questions, but polling will be with us for ever, we think – despite its short comings in May, which we discuss here as Britain’s least inaccurate pollsters. What is changing is the speed and iterative nature of what we do and the range of channels for collecting data and understanding human behaviour. We have also found new ways for letting clients immerse themselves in diverse environments to bring findings to life.

The upcoming EU referendum, possible second Scottish referendum and the disintegration of the UK, or at least its gradual shift to a more devolved system are underway, with unknown consequences. The fact that after boundary changes Labour may well need a swing of 1997 or 1945 proportions to win a majority in 2020 means that Conservative ambitions for a smaller State look certain, although achieving this is going to be tricky with a small majority, despite Labour’s weaknesses. There is already record anxiety about the future of the NHS.

While expectations of public services seem to be falling as the public becomes more sanguine about the cuts, they are beginning to notice a deterioration in services, and the fallout from cuts in benefits and tax credits is unclear. The next five years pose huge challenges in rebalancing public services, made harder by the government’s need, and voters’ desires, to protect health services and pensions, which absorb a large part of spending. Expenditure is rebalancing towards older people, but the young aren’t revolting – quite the contrary – as we examine here.

Best wishes to you and your family for 2016. Events of this year remind us to make more time for those closest to us.