By Sadie Robinson
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2726

People really don’t trust the government, says attitudes survey

This article is over 3 years, 6 months old
Issue 2726
Who would trust them?
Who would trust them? (Pic: Number 10 on Flickr)

The latest British Social Attitudes survey has found “record lows” in the level of trust and confidence in the government.

Nearly four fifths, 79 percent, said that the political system in Britain needs “quite a lot” or “a great deal” of improvement. It’s the highest level ever recorded. In 2014 the figure was 63 percent.

The survey, published this week, said trust in the government has “fallen away significantly” since 2016. Soon after that year’s European Union (EU) referendum, 22 percent of people said they trust the government “most of the time” or “just about always”.

This was the highest level since 2007.

By 2019 this had fallen to 15 percent—“the lowest level recorded in over forty years”. And “more than two times as many people”—some 34 percent—also said they “almost never” trust the government.

Trust in the government has likely fallen even further since the survey was carried out last year, due to the Tory handling of the coronavirus crisis.

The survey also suggested that years of scapegoating of migrants and refugees has had an impact. But it also revealed a more complex set of ideas than the right wing stereotype that paints ordinary people as bigoted racists.

Some 62 percent of those surveyed said EU migrants should not have free movement, but should have to apply to come to Britain. Nearly two thirds also think that the same rules should apply to people from Britain who want to live and work in the EU.

The figures are high—but they have been higher in the past. In 2016, 74 percent said EU migrants should have to apply to come to Britain.


And for those surveyed, the idea of “skilled” workers seems to be funnelled through a prism of considering which jobs are actually useful.

The survey found that people “do not simply draw a distinction between ‘skilled’ and ‘unskilled’ workers”.

For instance, “While 80 percent believe doctors should be a high priority, only 18 percent say the same of bankers.”

And 60 percent said care workers should be a priority.

Those surveyed “also appear to back the principle of treating migrants the same irrespective of their country of origin”. And over half said there should be no minimum salary threshold for those wanting to come to Britain, or that it should be no more than £15,000 a year.

Right wingers hail Brexit as a chance to escape EU safety rules and other regulations that hinder profits. And they say those who backed Brexit were motivated by a desire to tear up these rules.


The survey’s findings suggest a different picture. It found “little appetite for more liberal regulations” on food production and sale, for instance.

Three quarters opposed the sale of chlorinated chicken, and nearly 90 percent opposed hormone treated beef. A majority also backed keeping a ban on growing genetically modified crops.

Professor Sir John Curtice is from the National Centre for Social Research which carried out the survey. He said, “There does not appear to be a widespread public clamour for a less strict regulatory regime.”

Leading Remainers suggest that, if the referendum was repeated, a majority would back staying in the EU. But the survey concluded that “it would seem unlikely that many voters will have changed their minds about the merits of Brexit”.

It also found that people appear to define themselves more by their attitude to the EU than by an affiliation to a political party.

British Social Attitudes survey shows Tory propaganda fails to remove support for poor
British Social Attitudes survey shows Tory propaganda fails to remove support for poor
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Just 7 percent said they were “very strongly” attached to a political party, while 45 percent were either a “very strong” Remainer or Leaver.

And more of those who voted Leave have strengthened their position. In 2018 41 percent of Leavers said they felt strongly attached to that identity. The figure in the latest report is 50 percent.

The headline figures on attitudes on freedom of movement will be used to justify more clampdowns. But Curtice said the survey didn’t indicate that most people back the Tories on immigration.

“Although most voters wish to see an end to freedom of movement—including many who voted Remain—the government’s immigration proposals would appear to be rather more restrictive than many voters would like,” he said.

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