New values, new divides?

New values new divides?

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on public attitudes

There has been much debate about whether the COVID-19 pandemic might create an opportunity to introduce major changes in public policy and the structure of society. Looking at welfare, inequality, and the role of law and conformity, this chapter assesses whether there is evidence of new patterns in public attitudes that might facilitate the introduction of such changes. It does so by comparing the results of two NatCen Social Research surveys conducted after the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions in March 2020 with the findings of British Social Attitudes (BSA) surveys conducted since 1983.

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An already more favourable attitude towards welfare for the unemployed has been maintained

  • Between 2005 and 2019 the proportion who agreed that most unemployed people could find a job if they wished fell from 69% to 51%. In our two surveys undertaken during the pandemic the figures are 51% and 42%.
  • The proportion who agreed that most people on the dole are fiddling fell from 41% in 2004 to 18% in 2019. In our most recent two surveys 25% and 22% express this view.
  • In 2011 people were three times more likely to say that benefits for the unemployed were too low than they were to say they were too high. In 2019 the public was evenly divided in its views, and this has remained the case since lockdown.

There are signs that more people now think Britain is unequal but redistribution has not become more popular

  • In 2019 56% agreed that there was ‘one law for the rich and one for the poor’. In our two most recent surveys this has risen to 64% and 67%.
  • Whereas in 2019 57% agreed that ‘ordinary people do not get their fair share of the nation’s wealth’, our latest two surveys put the figure at 64%.
  • 27% disagreed in 2019 with the proposition that ‘the government should redistribute income from the better-off to the less well-off’. Now the figure stands at 30%.

An existing trend towards a more liberal attitude to law and conformity has continued during the pandemic

  • In 2019 only 23% disagreed that the law should always be obeyed even if it is wrong. In our two surveys conducted during the pandemic, the figures are 32% and 31%.
  • The proportion who agreed that schools should teach children to obey authority had already fallen from 85% in 2004 to 72% in 2019. More recently, it has fallen further to 68% and 62%.
  • In 2007 77% agreed that young people did not have enough respect for traditional values. By 2019 this had dropped to 60%, while in our latest surveys it has been 56% and 52%.

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