2:00 pm - January 26th 2010
The 26th British Social Attitudes Survey has just been published, and has some interesting findings.
They show strong support for liberal social values, a decline in support for redistribution and traditional left-wing economic intervention to help the worse off, and overwhelming opposition to spending cuts in health and education.
It has prompted a mixture of gloating about how Britain is shifting to the right and whining about evil librulses not “tolerating” homophobia from our friends in the conservative movement, so let’s have a look at what it really says:
On social attitudes, Britain is becoming more liberal, except for when it comes to drugs:
• Britain is becoming increasingly liberal in its views about homosexuality. 36% think sexual relations between two adults of the same sex are always or mostly wrong, down from 62% in 1983.
• Cohabitation is becoming increasingly acceptable. 45% agree that it ‘makes no difference to children whether their parents are married to each other or just living together’, up from 38% in 1998. A quarter (27%) disagree, down from a third (33%) in 1998.
• These changes are partly because younger, more liberal, generations are gradually replacing older, less liberal, ones. But on many issues, like cohabitation, people are also becoming more tolerant as they get older, reflecting their life experiences.
• The last decade has seen a hardening of view about cannabis, most likely reflecting increased concern about its dangers; in 2001, 46% thought it should be illegal, rising to 58% now.
• People in Britain are generally tolerant of non-traditional family arrangements: 14% disapprove of cohabitation, compared with just 3% in Sweden but 34% in Poland.
• Nearly two in five (38%) disapprove of a mother with a young child working full-time; a small minority (3%) disapprove of the same behaviour by a father.
Interesting that the 38% disapproval of mothers with young children working is similar to the percentage who believe that relations between two adults of the same sex are always or mostly wrong – suggesting that socially conservative views are confined to a vocal minority.
On economic policy, fewer than one in ten people support spending cuts. Support for redistribution has fallen since 1997, and there is a consensus in favour of maintaining current levels of public spending.
• Only two in five people (39%) now support increased taxes and spending on health and education, the lowest level since 1984 and down from 62% in 1997.
• Support for redistribution from the better off to those who are less well off has dropped markedly. Fewer than two in five (38%) now think the government should redistribute income from the better off to those who are less well off, down from half (51%) in 1994.
• A minority of one in five (21%) think unemployment benefits are too low and cause hardship, compared with over half (53%) in 1994.
• In 1986, more than four in five (85%) people in Britain thought it was up to government to provide a decent standard of living for the unemployed; just over half (55%) think this now.
• Nevertheless, the proportion willing to say that taxes and spending on health and education should be cut is still less than one in ten (8%).
Interestingly, the shift to the right has occurred mainly among Labour supporters in the wake of the changed stance taken by their party. For example, since 1994, the belief that government should redistribute income has fallen among Labour supporters from two thirds (68%) to half (49%).
Among Conservative supporters, in contrast, attitudes have barely shifted at all (from 26% to 24%). Over the same period, the number of people identifying with Labour has fallen from 45% to 27%, with a sharp rise in the number of people who say that they don’t identify with any party. This has allowed the Conservatives to become the party which most people identify with, on 32%.
An example of how government action can influence public attitudes. The ban on smoking in public paces came into effect in Scotland in 2006; support for a complete ban on smoking in pubs in Scotland more than doubled between 2004 and 2006, from 25% to 53%.
And, worryingly, participation in parliamentary democracy is waning:
• Only just over half (56%) now think that ‘it’s everyone’s duty to vote’, down from two thirds (68%) in 1991.
• Although only a minority of people (18%) go as far as to say that ‘it’s not really worth voting’, this figure has more than doubled since the early 1990s, when it stood at just 8%.
• Only just over two in five (41%) of under 35 year olds feel they have a duty to vote.
Some encouraging findings and some discouraging ones for those of us on the liberal left. But there’s nothing here to give comfort to conservatives who think it is important that parents should be married (supported by 27%), or who want big cuts in public spending on health and education (supported by 8%).
Don Paskini is deputy-editor of LC. He also blogs at donpaskini. He is on twitter as @donpaskini
· Other posts by Don Paskini
Story Filed Under: Blog ,Conservative Party ,Economy ,Equality ,Labour party ,Our democracy
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Reactions: Twitter, blogs
- Lauren Ivory
RT @libcon: Britain becoming more liberal http://tinyurl.com/yceckt9 << interesting post…
- Hannah Mudge
Some interesting stats here RT @libcon Britain becoming more liberal http://bit.ly/5ZxB60
RT @laurenivory RT @libcon: Britain becoming more liberal http://tinyurl.com/yceckt9 << homophobia down from 28% since 1982..
38% disapprove of a mother with young child working full-time; 3% disapprove of the same behaviour by a father. http://bit.ly/5ZnYph
"Liberal Conspiracy » Britain becoming more liberal" ( http://bit.ly/9AmQEC )
- Liberal Conspiracy
Britain becoming more liberal http://tinyurl.com/yceckt9
- Maff Woodford
Britain becoming more liberal..except about drugs http://bit.ly/bQxn5X
- Tweets that mention Liberal Conspiracy » Britain becoming more liberal -- Topsy.com
[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Liberal Conspiracy, rufflemuffin, marqueue, Hannah Mudge, Lauren Ivory and others. Lauren Ivory said: RT @libcon: Britain becoming more liberal http://tinyurl.com/yceckt9 << interesting post… [...]
- Chris Coltrane
Interesting breakdown of results from that poll that concluded "Britain is becoming more liberal": http://bit.ly/bA59HP
- Jackie Crossley
RT @libcon Britain becoming more liberal http://bit.ly/5ZxB60 << Mixed blessings, but we still have a long way to go.
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- Jackie Crossley
Liberal Conspiracy » Britain becoming more liberal http://bit.ly/5ZxB60
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