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British Social Attitudes survey shows Tory propaganda fails to remove support for poor

This article is over 9 years, 11 months old
Latest British Social Attitudes Survey reveals diverse opinions on immigration and benefits—despite constant Tory scapegoating, reports Sadie Robinson
Issue 2409
Many people have protested against cuts to benefits
Many people have protested against cuts to benefits (Pic: Josh Brown)

The Tories claim their cuts are popular because people in Britain hate benefit “scroungers”. The latest British Social Attitudes survey (BSA) found a more contradictory picture.

The survey polled more than 3,000 people in Britain last year on topics including welfare, democracy, immigration, Scottish independence and “Britishness”.

Although it showed that support for benefit claimants has declined over time, high numbers still support the welfare state. 

And the latest survey found that, “Public support for more spending on benefits seems to be rising”.

More people overall said that they actually wanted increased spending on benefits as opposed to those who backed cuts.

Some 36 percent agreed that the government should spend more on welfare benefits for the poor, even if it meant higher taxes. 

That’s an increase on the 2011 figure of 28 percent, and more than the 32 percent who disagreed.

People backed more spending on benefits for all groups except unemployed people. Here nearly half wanted the benefit cut—but this is still lower than the 2008 figure.

At the same time, 44 percent said they didn’t think unemployment benefits were enough to live on.


When told what the actual benefit is this rose to 56 percent—indicating some misconceptions about what life on benefits is really like.

But wild stories in the press about claimants living it up in mansions haven’t cut with most people. 

The survey described a “dramatic rise in press coverage of the benefits system since the start of the recession”. They are more and more likely to be described as “handouts”. 

But the survey added, “Even today there is very little feeling that benefits provide a very generous standard of living.”

Just 6 percent agreed that an unemployed single woman would have “more than enough” to live on. The majority, 56 percent, said she would be “hard up” or “really poor”.

The BSA found a “sharp increase” in the numbers saying that poverty has gone up in Britain.

Nearly ­­two thirds agreed with this last year, compared to less than half in 2009. Only a minority said they were living comfortably on their current income.

Almost one in five said they were struggling. And nearly two thirds said there is “quite a lot” of real poverty in Britain today.

“It is crucial to stress that considerable support for the benefits system remains,” it concluded. 

And most people think the government should make sure people have enough money to live on if they can’t work—despite politicians’ propaganda.

Just what is ‘Britishness’?

Fewer people were “proud” to be British last year compared to a decade earlier. Just 35 percent agreed with the statement in the latest BSA survey compared to 43 percent in 2003.

The idea of what defines “being British” has also changed. 

A massive 95 percent of those polled said the ability to speak English is an important aspect of being British, compared to 86 percent in 2003.

More people said some “ethnic” qualities were more important in defining Britishness than in the past. These include being born in Britain and having British ancestry.

Yet over a quarter disagreed that being born in Britain is an important attribute for being “truly British”. 

And only half said sharing the customs and traditions that David Cameron likes to bang on about mattered. A  slight drop from the 2003 figure of 52 percent.

The survey found differences linked to age. So 40 percent of those born after 1964 based their view of British national identity on factors that can be acquired rather than ethnic ones.

Survey shows diverse ideas on migration

The BSA said figures in its latest survey “suggest more diversity of opinion about immigration than is commonly assumed”.

For instance, while 47 percent of people said immigration had been bad for the economy nearly a third said it had been good. Over a third said immigration had enriched British culture.

The BSA asked how long EU migrants who work and pay taxes should wait before having access to the same benefits as British citizens.

The highest number, 37 percent, said they should have access to the same benefits immediately or after one year. Some 24 percent said after three years, and 30 percent said after five years or more.

Big numbers—77 percent—said they wanted immigration levels to be cut. But this has stayed relatively stable since 2008.

Hostility to migrants doesn’t seem to be based on experience—indicating that it comes from myths spread by politicians and the media. The survey found that people who have contact with migrants have more positive attitudes on immigration.

It concluded, “There are hints here that it is often those most removed from direct experience of immigration who find it the most threatening”.

There’s no equal justice in Britain

The survey ­showed that people had key concerns about “democratic” institutions such as the judiciary.

One in five felt that it was important for courts to treat people equally, but thought this did not happen in Britain.

Tories try to stoke up division

The Tories try to divide working class people by saying there are those who “work hard” and “scroungers” who claim benefits. 

But the attitudes survey shows that people in working households are more supportive of the benefits system when they are struggling to make ends meet. 

It shows that many people affected by Tory cuts don’t look to blame those who are worse off.

Lack of belief in ‘benefit cheats’

Tories have done their best to push the idea that benefit claimants are cheats who are “fiddling” their claims. 

But the BSA survey shows that only a minority agree that most unemployed claimants are fraudulent.

Most people surveyed do not think that most claims are down to fraud.  

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