Penny Young has the unenviable task of trying to break the news to CiF readers that the UK isn’t becoming more left-leaning and sympathetic to those looking to live off the sweat of others:
Why are David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith so confident that they can push through their welfare changes, capping benefits at £26,000, despite last’s night resounding rejection by the House of Lords? The answer might be that, despite the reaction of the Lords, the coalition believes that public opinion supports the welfare cuts.
And they aren’t wrong!
At NatCen Social Research we’ve been tracking attitudes towards these issues for nearly 30 years, focusing not only on people’s views about specific aspects of the welfare state but also on their more fundamental viewsabout fairness and inequality.What we’ve found suggests that there is indeed an appetite for welfare reform. Our annual British Social Attitudes survey shows the public believe most people can get on in life if they try hard enough. They believe that Britain is a meritocracy, that if people work hard, are ambitious and have a good education, they’ll succeed in life. Most (84%) think that hard work is very important if you are to get ahead in life. And people are far less likely to attribute success to who your parents are – only 14% place a similar emphasis on coming from a wealthy family when it comes to doing well.
Not good reading for the CiF set. Oh, how they foam at the mouth!
In this context there is fairly low support for the redistribution of wealth from rich to poor, and what support there is has fallen over time. A third (35%) now think the government should redistribute income from the better off to those who are less well off, down from just under half a decade ago. There is also concern about the impact of welfare benefits on their recipients – our last report showed that over half (54%) think that unemployment benefits are too high and that they discourage the unemployed from finding jobs – up from 35% in 1983.
Keep it coming, the commenters are almost at apoplexy stage!
These changes over time can partly be traced back to New Labour’s ideological repositioning on issues such as equality and welfare in the mid 1990s, and the impact this had upon their supporters’ views.
Interesting theory. It’s assuming, then, that the Labour Party’s supporters are becoming less ‘left wing’? If so, that’s one to watch!
Other work we’ve done on “fairness” for the Equality and Human Rights Commission suggests that this view is partly underpinned by the belief that fairness means not just people having the same opportunities but people not getting more out of a system than they have put in.
Exactly! Penny skilfully dances round the elephant in that particular room, however.
The same study identified a view that in some ways Britain has become “too fair”, with common concerns being that benefit payments don’t encourage hard work and that there are unfair advantages for some in the housing and even employment system.
Not that she’d be so gauche as to mention who the ‘some’ were…
The British Social Attitudes survey also gives us some insights into the reasons why some people are seen to require help from the state. It finds that many see parental problems as contributing towards child poverty – three quarters mention drug and alcohol abuse as a reason why children live in need, and 63% mention parents not wanting to work.
Excellent news! They haven’t quite managed to kill off the notion of personal responsibility just yet.
This sense that individual responsibility is important is increasing.
Even more welcoming, we note, as we drink the bitter tears of the CiF commentariat!
This certainly gives us some insight as to why the coalition feels comfortable with the changes to the benefit system they are proposing. But the warning bell is that none of this should be taken to mean that people don’t care about inequality. The vast majority (78%) think the gap between rich and poor is too wide.
Maybe. But it doesn’t follow from that that they will support attempts to redress it by redistribution of wealth, does it? Indeed, your own survey shows that they won’t…