British Social Attitudes Report finds softening attitudes to benefits

Family outside council home in Salford The proportion of people who believed benefit cuts would damage too many people's lives rose five percentage points to 47% in 2012

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Attitudes to unemployment and to welfare payments have softened, a major survey of the public mood suggests.

The annual British Social Attitudes Report - which questioned more than 3,000 people for more than an hour - found 51% said benefits were too high in 2012, down from 62% in 2011.

The survey also showed a fall in support for Scottish independence, from 30% in 2006 to 23% in 2012.

About 60% said the Scottish Parliament should be running taxes and welfare.

The British Social Attitudes Report has been running for 30 years.

Benefits capped

According to the NatCen Social Research survey, sympathy for those without jobs has increased, while support for benefit cuts has fallen.

The number of people who agreed with the statement that benefits are "too high and discourage work" fell from a high of 62% in 2011.

And about half thought the unemployed could get a job if they really wanted one, down from two thirds in the boom years of the previous decade.

The coalition government identified reducing welfare spending as one of its most urgent priorities after the 2010 general election.

Benefits have been capped by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith since then to a little less than £26,000 per year, per household.

Start Quote

It remains to be seen what impact the coalition government's welfare reform agenda will have on public attitudes”

End Quote Alison Park NatCen

But the proportion of people who believed that benefit cuts would damage too many people's lives rose to 47% in 2012, from 42% in 2011.

In February last year, Mr Duncan Smith claimed that "five million people are trapped on out-of-work benefits and almost two million children are growing up in workless households".

He has also strongly condemned those who appear to have manipulated the system to gain as many benefits as possible. But the survey suggests that British people no longer have as much sympathy with this view.

The proportion of people found to be supportive of extra spending on benefits rose to 34% in 2012, compared with 28% in 2011.

Other the key findings include:

  • For the first time in 30 years, more people said they were interested in politics than in the previous 12 months
  • Some 18% said they trusted the government to regularly place the country's needs above their own party's interests, compared with 38% in 1987
  • The reputation of the monarchy has been enhanced recently, with 45% believing it "very important" for it to remain, compared with 27% in 2006
  • The survey suggests that Britain has become significantly more tolerant of same-sex relationships, with 22% declaring them "always wrong", compared with 64% in 1987
  • Nine out of 10 people trusted banks when the survey began in 1983 - that has fallen to just two out of 10

Alison Park, head of society and social change at NatCen, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that people had become more interested in politics over the survey's lifetime.

"Though they have gone off the parties and the politicians," she added.

She also said new generations had become more relaxed about sexuality and marriage than thirty years ago.

"There's been a really clear shift in a more sort of tolerant, live and let live direction," she said.

The report's authors wrote that their data indicated that "austerity and the experience of cuts to social security may be changing public attitudes towards a more sympathetic view of benefit claimants".

But Ms Park stressed it was clear the public was "very divided in their views".

"It remains to be seen what impact the coalition government's welfare reform agenda will have on public attitudes, and whether the small recent upturn in sympathy marks the beginning of a longer term trend," she said.

According to the report, the Department for Work and Pensions provided "financial support" to the researchers.

A department spokeswoman said there was "clear public support" for many of its benefit reforms.

"It is understandable that people's attitudes to welfare have changed over the last 15 years," she said.

"The system was allowed to develop to the point that benefits could provide a lifestyle out of reach from many hard-working families and for some the incentive to work was limited."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 670.

    I once lost my job once and went to the job center and also need some support. I was given a real hard time, got money for stamps. Next to me was this guy collecting full benefits, didn't speak any English benefiting from a system that appears to cater for people of a specific social standing that do nothing for our economy. I think the entire welfare system need serious reform and is unfair

  • rate this

    Comment number 346.

    My view is unchanged.

    I support the payment of benefits to genuine claiments & feel sorry for those unable to find work or exploited by tax dodging multi-nationals.

    However, living in a country that has a benefit system allowing those not working to be better off than those in work creates resentment against all claiments, social division & economic retardation.

    It must end.

  • rate this

    Comment number 342.

    If I am better off working part-time with benefits, something IS wrong with the system. As a single parent paying 40% bracket, I have little left after childcare and housing; so much goes to taxes. It's not just about the living wage or disability. I'm tired of paying for my neighbour's subsidised council house that's bigger than mine and their satellite TV. Why not tax breaks for working parents?

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    I'm not surprised attitudes have softened. Perhaps it is a sign that a corner has been turned - people look less at what their neighbours receive when they feel less squeezed. Or maybe is's a reaction to mainly hostile media coverage of the welfare changes. The bottom line for most people is that they know genuine claimants and those that abuse. Remove the abuse and allocate more to the genuine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    My attitude towards benefits would improve if those who are doing the subsidising through their taxes were always considerably better off than than those who are subsidised, whether through out of work or disability benefits, in work benefits, or subsidised housing.


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