‘Softening’ of public attitudes on benefits

Some signs of a softening in public attitudes to benefits and the welfare state have been detected in the latest British Social Attitudes Survey report, which is published each year by the National Centre for Social Research. The annual survey shows a fall in the number of people thinking that benefit levels are too high, and a rise in those thinking that benefit cuts are doing too much harm. 

At the same time a report from the Demos think tank, drawing on on the survey data, has examined the longer-term decline in support for the welfare state – particularly among the younger generation.

Key findings

  • In 2012, 51 per cent of survey respondents said social security benefits are 'too high and discourage work' – down from 62 per cent in 2011.
  • The proportion of people believing benefit cuts 'would damage too many people's lives' rose to 47 per cent – up from 42 per cent in 2011. In addition, 34 per cent of people supported more spending on benefits, even if it meant higher taxes, up from 28 per cent in 2011.
  • 54 per cent of respondents said unemployed people could find a job if they really wanted one – compared with 68 per cent just before the onset of the recession in 2008.
  • Nonetheless, taking a 30-year perspective, support for the benefits system remains comparatively low. In 1987, more than half the population (55 per cent) supported more spending on benefits: despite the recent increase, this now stands at around one-third (34 per cent). Similarly, 81 per cent of the public believe large numbers of people falsely claim benefits, compared with 67 per cent in 1987.
  • The Demos analysis finds that age is now a factor in determining attitudes. The youngest generation is most sceptical about the welfare state, whereas the oldest generation is the most proud of it and most likely to support further spending on it. Nonetheless all age groups say they want the system to benefit those who have contributed and those in most desperate need.

Sources: Alison Park, Caroline Bryson, Elizabeth Clery, John Curtice and Miranda Phillips (eds), British Social Attitudes 30: 2013 Edition, National Centre for Social Research | Bobby Duffy, Suzanne Hall, Duncan O'Leary and Sarah Pope, Generation Strains, Demos
Links (Natcen)Report | Key findings | NatCen press release | IPPR blog post | JRF blog post | BBC report | Guardian report | Telegraph report 
Links (Demos)Report | Summary | Demos press release | Guardian report

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Publication date: 
Sep 9 2013