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Public narrowly prioritizes equality and tax over sustainability at brands

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By Chris Sutcliffe | Senior reporter

November 23, 2022 | 6 min read

The UK public is turning on brands that do not pay their way, per a new study from Mindshare UK.

Tax evasion and pay inequality are riling the UK public in the face of cost-of-living crises

Tax evasion and pay inequality are riling the UK public in the face of cost-of-living crises / Steven Buissine

The research, which questioned a nationally representative group of 1,000 respondents, found that tax evasion and pay disparity between workers and executives were likely to put consumers off a brand.

The findings include the fact that, when asked what a ‘good’ and moral brand should be prioritizing in 2022, the most popular answer is creating employment at a fair wage (43%). This was followed by prioritizing families during the cost-of-living crisis (41%) and supporting/looking after its staff (41%). As the answers indicate, the cost-of-living crisis is at the forefront of consumers’ minds as inflation and stagnant wage growth continue to bite.

Julia Ayling, head of research and insights at Mindshare UK, said: “Our latest Reality Check report emphasizes the complex challenges that brands are facing at the moment. It’s no surprise that financial issues are front-of-mind for many people.

“But at the same time, the public is increasingly attuned to how brands conduct themselves and savvy to issues such as greenwashing and jumping on the bandwagon of popular causes. And we can see that where consumers do have a little more headspace from financial worries, for example among older audience groups, issues such as sustainability are as important as ever.”

The cost-of-living issue is of particular importance to brands in some sectors. The section of the report specifically around financial woes notes that jewelry and luxury items are at particular risk of being cut from household budgets, while news and magazine subscriptions are also at risk.

Mindshare's report on the public's changing shopping habits

By contrast, “Many of us have come out of the pandemic with higher levels of risk aversion and an increased desire for financial stability. As a result of this, insurance can expect to be one of the least affected sectors, with 55% of people saying they will not be changing their spending levels in this area – a level that was relatively consistent, whatever their financial outlook.”

Negative impact

However, the report also noted that while those positive actions like fairly paying workers create a halo effect around the brand, there are also negative effects that have a bigger impact on how a brand is perceived. Evading tax (68%) was seen as the gravest sin, while paying board members significantly more than other staff (68%) and not paying employees a fair wage (69%) also topped the list.

These issues were only narrowly ahead of damaging the environment (67%), which suggests that even in troubled economic times the public is still invested in making sure that brands’ values align with their own. In fact, the report also found that 57% of the public said that if the price was the same, they would choose the brand that most closely aligned with their values, while 44% said they pay more attention to brand values than in the past.

Older respondents were also more likely to prioritize the environment, with 42% of over-55s agreeing this should be a big priority for companies v only 37% of under-34s. The report’s authors posit that the change in priorities is due to a mindset shift in the wake of Brexit, which it states has gone from “I and me to we and us.”

Brands in those sectors at most risk of being cut due to the cost-of-living crisis, then, are feeling the squeeze in both consumer spending and behavior, according to the public’s sense of fair play.

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