Spending and welfare / Conclusions


The past three decades have not seen a universal shift in attitudes towards the government and its role in social protection and the economy. Levels of support for government taxation and spending activities in many areas are comparable to those recorded 30 years ago. Where there is clear evidence that the public has become less collectivist is in its views on government welfare provision for the unemployed. While attitudes towards welfare provision for this group behave to some extent in a cyclical way, becoming more supportive during and after periods of recession (a pattern which may explain an increase in such support since 2011), the dominant trend has been one of declining support for government spending and provision in this area. 

While British society as a whole has not become less collectivist, the attitudes and perceptions of different groups have changed in very distinctive ways. So, while attitudes to income inequality and redistribution have remained fairly stable, the views of those groups who were traditionally the most likely to perceive income equality as a problem or to support redistribution (younger people and Labour supporters) have become less collectivist; at the same time, the views of older people and Conservative Party supporters, who were traditionally the least likely to adopt these views, have become more collectivist. As a result the British people are less divided on these issues than they were in the 1980s. Over the same period, while attitudes to welfare for the unemployed have become less collectivist at the societal level, this shift has been most pronounced among young people and Labour Party supporters. 

undefinedThere is some evidence that we may be approaching a turning point, however. The 2012 data indicate that austerity and the experience of cuts to social security may be changing public attitudes towards a more sympathetic view of benefit claimants; in particular we see significantly more support for welfare spending in general, and for spending on unemployment benefits in particular, than we did in 2011. For that reason, the 2013 survey will be particularly interesting, given the extent of the welfare changes taking place in 2013/2014. Concern about the income gap between rich and poor, and support for redistribution, have also risen since the financial crisis. Whether these shifts mark the beginning of a long-term trend or simply a temporary blip in public attitudes as has been witnessed in the past, to be reversed when economic conditions improve, is likely to have significant political implications. 


1. 1987 was chosen as the starting point for our analysis in order to use a comparable measure of social class with all subsequent years.

2. The bases for Table 2.5 are as follows:


3. The bases for Table 2.6 are as follows:


4. The bases for Table 2.7 are as follows:


5. The bases for Table 2.8 are as follows: