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bsa34 246British Social Attitudes Survey 34 

From Key Findings BSA 34

The National Centre for Social Research’s BSA 34 , published on 28 June 2017, comes at a time when Britain seems split 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. Before that, we had a narrow majority UK government itself preceded by another hung parliament. And in Scotland specifically, the country was split by the question of whether to remain a part of the United Kingdom. Each vote produced an outcome in which the country seemed starkly but often evenly divided. At each moment there were strident voices on every side and sometimes higher than usual turnout. Fears about political apathy have been displaced by worries about national unity.  

Every BSA survey seeks to look beyond the headlines to uncover the deeper attitudes and trends that shape our country. This year is no different, and they have found that the country, while divided on many questions, does have an underlying state of mind - that of a kind-hearted but not soft-hearted community.

The key findings are:

A more generous state

Tax more, spend more: More people (48%) say they want higher taxes to pay for more spending on health, education and social benefits, the highest level for more than a decade. 44% say they want it to stay the same and 4% would like to see taxes cut. Despite the recent swing we have still not reached the heights of the 1990s when six in ten favoured more spending.

Redistribution: More people (42%) say that government should redistribute income from the better-off to those who are less well-off than disagree (28%).  Before the financial crisis fewer people supported redistribution than opposed it (34% and 38% respectively in 2006). Although, support for more redistribution is still lower than the peak it reached during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Job creation and red-tape: Eight in ten (83%) support government financing projects to create new jobs, up from seven in ten (72%) in 2006. While the proportion who want government to cut regulation of business is now only a third (34%), down from 40% in 2006.

Spending priorities: Eight in ten think government should spend more or much more on health (83%), seven in ten on education (71%), six in ten on the police (57%). By contrast only 16% would support more spending on benefits for the unemployed.

Less cynical about benefit claimants

After more than two decades of relatively tough attitudes, there are signs that views towards benefit recipients may be softening, though the public doesn’t view all those in receipt of support from the state equally.

Benefit fraud: The proportion who say most dole claimants are ‘fiddling’ has dropped from 35% in 2014 to 22% in 2016 – its lowest level since the question was first asked on the survey in 1986.

Deserving help: The proportion who say that most social security claimants don’t deserve help dropped from 32% in 2014 to 21% in 2016, the lowest ever level on the survey.

Less cynical, but still cynical: On average the public estimate that 34 out of every 100 people receiving benefits have given false information to support their claim.

But all people are not equal: Support for spending on pensions is down, it’s up on benefits for the disabled, and the public is less damning of tax fraud than benefit fraud.

Protecting national security

The survey finds Britain holding traditionally “conservative” views on national security and law and order. Even before the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London the public favoured stronger state powers to tackle terrorism even at the expense of individual rights.

Detention without trial: At a time of a suspected terrorist attack, more than half the population (53%) would support detaining people indefinitely without putting them on trial. The law currently restricts this to 14 days.

Stop and search: Seven in ten (70%) believe authorities should have the right to stop and search people at random if a terrorist attack is suspected. Currently a police officer can only stop and search without “reasonable grounds" if a senior police officer has authorised it in advance.

Big brother: 80% think the government should have the right to keep people under video surveillance in public areas, while 50% think they should have the right to monitor emails and other information exchanged on the Internet.

Obey the law: The proportion who say that it is acceptable not to obey a law, even if that particular law is wrong, has declined from a high point of 37% in 1991 to only 24%.

Defence spending: Four in ten (39%) back more defence spending, more people than at any time during the past 30 years. Only two in ten (20%) want to see it cut.

More freedom in our personal lives

Sex before marriage: Three quarters (75%) now say sex before marriage is “not wrong at all”. This stood at under two thirds (64%) in 2012. 73% of Anglicans agree that sex before marriage is not at all wrong, up from 54% only four years earlier and around double the proportion who said this in 1985. In 2005 the gap between the youngest and the oldest people on whether sex before marriage is “not wrong at all” was 53 percentage points, it has now halved to 25 points.

Same-sex relationships: Attitudes towards same-sex relationships have become significantly more liberal with 64% of people now saying that they are “not wrong at all”, up from 59% in 2015, and 47% in 2012. Over half (55%) of Anglicans say same-sex relationships are “not wrong at all”, up from 31% only four years previously.

Adult films: 45% of people believe adults should be able to watch whatever films they like, however violent or pornographic, up from 32% of people in 1996.  There remains, however a big gender and age divide on this issue, with six in ten (58%) of men and young people (60%) saying adults should be able to watch any film they choose, compared with three in ten women (32%) and two in ten (20%) over 75.

Abortion: More people than ever say an abortion should be allowed if a woman decides on her own she does not want the child (70%) or if a couple cannot afford any more children (65%). Most remarkably perhaps the proportion of Catholics who agree an abortion should be allowed if a women does not want the child jumped from 33% in 1985 to 61% in 2016.

Euthanasia: 77% of people feel a person with a painful incurable disease should be able to legally request that a doctor end their life. Around eight in ten have backed euthanasia under these circumstances throughout the past 30 years.

Brexit and immigration

More Eurosceptic than ever: In the immediate aftermath of the Referendum the public has become more sceptical about the EU than ever before. Three in four (75%) feel that Britain should either leave the EU or that if it stays the EU’s powers should be reduced, up from 65% in 2015. Only one in five favoured the status quo or EU expansion.  

A widening social divide: Views on immigration have become more polarised. The young and highly educated are more likely than ever to believe that immigration is good for the economy, while older people and non-graduates are more likely to say immigration is bad for the economy.

Choosier about immigrants:  Two thirds of people (65%) believe all migrants to the UK should speak English, have good educational qualifications and work skills needed in Britain, compared with half of people (49%) in 2002.

Read the Key Findings and rest of report here.

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From Key Findings BSA 34, 11/07/2017

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