Britain, while divided on many questions, does have an underlying state of mind, says NatCen’s 34th British Social Attitudes Survey. That of a kindhearted but not softhearted community.
This June 2017 report comes at a time when Britain seems split in two on many of the biggest questions. A close referendum decision to leave the European Union has been followed by a snap UK election resulting in a hung parliament.
Key findings are:
Kinder: after 7 years of government austerity, public opinion shows signs of moving back in favour of wanting more tax and spend and greater redistribution of income. We also find that attitudes to benefit recipients are starting to soften and people particularly favour prioritising spending on disabled people.
Not soft-hearted: the public in general continues to take a tough line on the response to threats at home and abroad. The majority want the authorities to be given strong powers to respond to terrorism and crime, and record numbers want defence spending increased.
After pensions being protected from austerity, the public are losing sympathy with the idea that this should be a priority for further spending.
The public takes a dim view of benefit fraud and tax evasion, with many thinking that exploiting “legal loopholes” is also wrong. Further, more people consider benefit fraud wrong than tax evasion. While the proportion who prioritise more spending on increasing the benefits for disabled people has risen, there is little support for more spending on benefits for the unemployed, perhaps because half of people think the unemployed could find a job if they wanted to.
Socially liberal: the onward march of social liberalism continues with record proportions of people being comfortable with same-sex relationships, pre-marital sex and abortion, among other issues. While younger people are still more liberal on these subjects than older people, the difference is narrowing.
Divided: the country is however clearly divided by age and education on views about the EU and immigration; young degree holders are much more positive about both than older people with no formal qualifications.