How will Britain navigate the global, social, economic and Brexit challenges of the near future?
Commentators who agree on little else are in agreement that this is a turbulent time for Britain.
The Brexit process has started but its conclusion is far from clear. The country seems divided in new ways and ill at ease with itself. Meanwhile, global disruptions pick up pace - climate change is rapidly ceasing to be a purely theoretical concern, while new technologies are changing established industries.
In many ways it feels as if the early 21st century has posed a series of questions about the future of the country that will have to be answered sooner rather than later. There is no shortage of policy reports on how Britain should go about doing so. However, this year’s National Centre for Social Research British Social Attitudes report takes a different approach.
We examine how the British public views these challenges and whether we are as divided as it can seem on the questions that arise. In doing so we hope to expose where there might be important divergences between expert and public expectations and highlight where current attitudes might pose particular problems for policymakers.
In the course of this year’s report we examine four major types of challenge facing Britain:
• Global challenges: these are issues that no country can hope to avoid. In particular, we examine climate change and the impact of new technology on current jobs with a view to assessing how people view challenges with far-reaching impact that is often hard even for experts to comprehend fully.
• Social cohesion challenges: many feel that the country is more divided than it has been in a long time. We analyse whether this is correct and examine the challenges for bridging attitudinal divides.
• Economic settlement challenges: this decade has been shaped by government austerity and a high employment, low wage growth economy. As politicians on the left and right debate the best way forward, we explore what the British people want from work, welfare and public spending.
• Brexit challenges: as much as many may be tiring of discussing Brexit, there is little doubting how profound a challenge it is. We examine its political ramifications for political parties and the Union, and examine how hard it will be for politicians to reach a post-EU membership settlement that has widespread support.
In summary we find:
• The British public are not as worried about major global challenges as the experts who work on them. Public concern about the threat of climate change and technology replacing their jobs is relatively low.
• Age and education are major dividing lines in how we voted in the 2016 referendum and the 2017 General Election. These divides also show up in other areas such as climate change and welfare.
• But on social issues these divides are narrowing, and our trust in one another is as high as it has ever been. Learning from these areas could help attempts to bridge the country’s political differences.
• People increasingly want a new spending settlement on public services and expect employers to pay wages that cover the basic cost of living. Most people feel the NHS has a major funding problem and a large proportion want to see the minimum wage increased.
• The public is divided into two evenly sized groups who have coalesced around opposing views of the UK’s future relationship with the EU. Politicians face an uphill struggle to deliver a post-referendum settlement that will unite the country.
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