Public attitudes towards benefit claimants

The results of the latest British Social Attitudes Survey are out today (or mabe yesterday by the time this goes up!) – one of the sections is on attitudes to benefit, taxation and inequality.

According to the Daily Telegraph today – the British Public are more right wing than under Thatcher.

“A major analysis of social attitudes over the last three decades also found fewer adults wanted the Government to redistribute income and many believed inequality was down to “individual laziness on the one hand and hard work on the other…  public opinion is “far closer” to many of Thatcher’s core beliefs than it was when she left office. [Also] after 13 years of a Labour government, the study found more people were against disproportionately taxing the better off.

Summarising the report further the article says –

Asked why some people were “in need”, 26 per cent said they were lazy and 38 per cent said inequality was simply an inevitable consequence of modern life.

Only 57 per cent of people said the Government was responsible for reducing inequality – compared with 64 per cent two decades ago – and just 36 per cent said the Government should redistribute income.

The study also found only a quarter of people believed the Government should spend more on benefits – half the number that believed this in the mid- to-late 80s.

Miss Young added: “The survey points to a nation at political crossroads between left and right: it is perhaps little surprise that the election resulted in a Coalition. On the one hand we are seeing a hardening of attitudes towards welfare reform whilst on the other there is strong support for investment in health and education.”

However, if you read the summary of the report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation they point out that according to their previous research most people strongly supported progressive tax and benefit system and were supportive of targeted interventions to improve life chances for the disadvantaged, when presented with evidence about unequal life chances.

It’s worth bearing in mind that British Social Attitudes Survey does ask very general questions without any context. If, as JRF says, and if, as I do in AS Sociology right at the beginning of the year, you contextualise poverty by looking at the experience of being poor and focussing on lack of opporunity, you generally get a more symapethic left wing view.

However, in wider society (with the exception of those ‘how the other half live programmes’ which were on recently which were sympathetic to people living on benefits) the public generally don’t get to see the wider context of why people are on benefits – they just see J Kyle blaming the poor for being poor. Unfortunately lack of context means ignorance about the issue – and ignorance breeds intolerance.

Robert Reiner in ‘Law and Order’ also argues that neo-liberal societies tend to breed intolerant attitudes – people generally have harsher attitudes to those less fortunate to themselves – blaming other people for their own misfortune, when of course the reality is that the neo-liberal state (if you follow Harvey) has actually create more unemployment and less stable jobs that lead to more people being on benefits.

Now I’m feeling depressed – time to go drink some spiritual gin – well it is Christmas after all!

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