Austerity Britain: Britons becoming less tolerant?

Today’s British Social Attitudes survey reveals mixed attitudes to welfare and public spending – and confirms the pressing need for more positive approach to tackling poverty amongst the media and politicians – and amongst us all…

As reported in the media, the latest annual survey of British Social Attitudes reveals an apparent hardening of public attitudes to welfare spending.  Unlike in previous recessions, where public support for spend on welfare has gone up, in ‘austerity Britain’ the reverse is true: Only 28% believe the government should more on benefits – roughly the same as in the previous two years, but significantly down from pre-crash days.  In 2008, the figure was 35%.

However, there was also a slight increase in the number of people who want to see more public spending,even if this means higher taxes…  Although substantially down over the past decade, 36% would favour higher public spending – up from a low of 31% last year.

The hardening of attitudes to welfare is hardly surprising – given the unremittingly negative media coverage of ‘welfare’ in much of the popular press and media over many years – and since the age of ‘austerity’ kicked in, in particular.  In much of the media (and seemingly in many politicians’ eyes) ‘welfare’ now has only negative connotations, and is seemingly synonymous with ‘dependency.’  In fact, according to Elizabeth Clery, co-director of the Social Attitudes Survey there is ‘an increasing belief that the welfare system encourages dependence‘.  As reported at the end of July, even disabled people in Britain are now feeling the impact of negative media coverage about benefit cheats. In a survey for Scope, nearly two-thirds said they had experienced aggression, hostility or name calling.

Whatever the merits, or otherwise, of the welfare state – or of Iain Duncan Smith’s increasingly troubled plans to introduce a new Universal Credit – in the midst of the worst recession for 70 years, there is little alternative in sight for millions of people already struggling to make ends meet.

All this points the need to challenge the negative media myths and stereotyping of people living in poverty: A task for us all!

‘Who will cast the first stone’ is the theme for the forthcoming Poverty and Homelessness Action Week – 26 January – 3 February 2013.  Find out more here.


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