UK

Most Britons feel social mobility has declined, survey finds

A classroom

Most people think there is less social mobility than there was a decade ago and that the class divide is large, a UK poll of public mood has found.

The NatCen British Social Attitudes Report found 77% of 4,328 people interviewed thought the class divide was either fairly wide or very wide.

Just 26% of people thought it was not very difficult to move between social classes, compared with 35% in 2005.

NatCen said the poll showed the UK class divide "was alive and well".

The social research specialists found that people who identify as working class were more likely to believe the divide between social classes was "fairly wide" or "very wide" (82%) compared with 70% of those who describe themselves as middle class.

The British Social Attitudes survey has been carried out every year since 1983, with questions repeated periodically to assess how opinions change over time.

This 2015 study aimed to find how people had responded to government austerity and how it affected perceptions of class, public spending and the workplace.

Kirby Swales, director of the NatCen survey centre, said: "The class divide is alive and well in Britain and the economic instability and austerity of recent years seem to have sharpened our belief that it is difficult to move from one class to another...

"Our findings certainly show that people who believe themselves to be working class are more likely to believe in a class divide than those who say they are middle class and more think it is difficult to move between classes than did in the past."

Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption The report found many people consider themselves working class even if they are in middle class jobs

The report also found the majority of people considered themselves to be working class (60%) compared with 40% who identified as being middle class - the same proportion as in 1983.

This is despite the fact it is estimated that only a quarter of the population are in working class occupations, the report's authors said.

Some 47% of people in jobs classed as managerial and professional consider themselves working class.

NatCen said class identity was closely linked to attitudes in other areas, with people who say they are working class being far more likely to be opposed to immigration, one of the defining issues of the EU referendum.

The authors of the report's chapter on social class, Geoffrey Evans and Jonathan Mellon, said there appeared to be a "working class of the mind".

They said: "Those in middle class occupations still think of themselves to a surprising degree as working class, and especially so if their family background was working class or they have never been to university.

"And this sense of working class identity apparently means that they are less libertarian and less pro-immigrant, but not necessarily more left-wing - even though those with a working class identity are particularly likely to think that class differences and barriers remain important."

But 45% of those surveyed back a cut in benefits for unemployed people.

Elizabeth Clery, research director of NatCen social research, said: "We have witnessed a big rise in support for higher public spending; support is now back to a level not seen since before the financial crash.

"After seven years of austerity the public is clearly worried about the funding of the NHS and reckons that, for some groups at least, spending on benefits should be increased."


Other findings in the report include:

  • Public backing for higher public spending is at its highest point (45%) for a decade
  • 93% of people think the NHS has a funding problem and 32% think this problem is severe - an increase from the 19% who thought this in 2014
  • Since 2011, public support for spending on benefits for people who are disabled and cannot work has increased by 15% and for single parents by 24%
  • Over the same period support for more spending on retired people has fallen by 14%, although almost half (49%) are still in favour of this
  • 29% of people in semi-routine and routine jobs find work stressful always or often
  • The proportion of workers who have a good job - one with at least four attributes such as opportunities for advancement or a "high income" - has increased from 62% in 2005 to 71% now

More on this story