Public attitudes to poverty hardening

While a large majority of people in Britain think it is important to tackle poverty, people are more inclined than in the past to blame individuals rather than wider causes, finds the latest British Social Attitudes Survey, 2011.

The survey conducted by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) found:

  • Eight in ten (82 per cent) consider it ‘very important’ to reduce child poverty in Britain, while another 16 per cent think it is ‘quite important’. Four in ten (43 per cent) say there is ‘some’ child poverty in Britain; another third (36 per cent) think there is ‘quite a lot’. Around half (51 per cent) think child poverty will increase in the decade ahead. Eight in ten (79 per cent) say central government should be responsible for reducing child poverty. But large minorities say people living in poverty including parents (46 per cent) or their friends and relatives (32 per cent) should be responsible.
  • The proportion of respondents attributing poverty to ‘laziness/lack of willpower’ has increased from 19 per cent (1994) to 26 per cent (2009) and the proportion attributing poverty to ‘injustice in society’ has declined from 29 per cent (1994) to 19 per cent (2009).
  • While 75 per cent agree that the income gap between rich and poor is too large, only just over a third (35 per cent) believe government should redistribute more to solve the problem.
  • There is continued concern that unemployment benefits are too high and that they discourage the unemployed from finding jobs – over half (54 per cent) agree with this sentiment, up from 35 per cent in 1983.
  • Among the many reasons given for child poverty, the most frequently cited are parents having drug and alcohol problems (75 per cent), parents not wanting to work (63 per cent), family breakdown (56 per cent), lack of education among parents (51 per cent) and parents being out of work for a long time (50 per cent). The most popular explanations therefore support the government’s view.

Press coverage generally viewed the findings as showing a hardening of attitudes towards the poor: ‘Britons lose sympathy for unemployed’ (Telegraph); ‘Britain gets a little more selfish’ (New Statesman); ‘Britons less willing to pay taxes to help others’ (BBC).

The full report is available from the NatCen website.

See also:
M. Rowlingson, M. Orton and E. Taylor (2010) ‘Do we still care about inequality?’ in The 37th Social Attitudes Survey.

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