Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 23 October 2014

State handout attitudes 'soften'

Despite the recent increase in support for benefits, it is still far lower than it was in the late 1980s, a survey found

Britons have softened in their attitudes towards state benefits for the unemployed in recent years, according to a survey.

The British Social Attitudes Report - now in its 30th year - found people in the UK had more sympathy for those out of work in 2012 than they did in 2011, while an increased number believed the Government should cut less and spend more on benefits.

However, experts from NatCen Social Research who published the report, found that despite the recent increase in support for benefits, it is still far lower than it was in the late 1980s.

According to the report, 51% of Britons in 2012 believed benefits for unemployed people were "too high and discourage work", compared with 62% in 2011.

Researchers found around half (47%) of people in 2012 believed cutting benefits "would damage too many people's lives", up 5% from the previous year, while 34% supported more spending on benefits, even if it means higher taxes, up from 28% in 2011.

NatCen said its survey revealed that hard times may also be softening people's views about unemployment.

In the five years prior to the financial crisis and subsequent recession around two-thirds of people felt that the unemployed could find a job if they really wanted one. This fell from 68% in 2008 to 55% in 2009, and stood at 54% in 2012.

In 1987, 55% supported more spending on benefits. Despite the recent increase this is now 34%, while 81% of the public now believe that large numbers of people falsely claim benefits compared with 67% in 1987.

Alison Park, head of society and social change at NatCen, said: "Thirty years of NatCen's British Social Attitudes survey shows that the nation has become much more cynical about the welfare state and benefit recipients, but austerity seems to be beginning to soften the public mood. It's also clear that on some issues the public are very divided in their views.

"It remains to be seen what impact the coalition Government's welfare reform agenda will have on public attitudes, and whether the small recent upturn in sympathy marks the beginning of a longer term trend."

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