British Social Attitudes
The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen)'s annual British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey asks a representative sample of the population what it's like to live in Britain and what they think about how Britain is run. Since 1983 we have been measuring and tracking changes in people's social, political and moral attitudes.
The survey is a critical gauge of public opinion, and is used by government, NGOs, journalists, opinion formers and academics.
40 years of tracking social and political attitudes in Britain
2023 marks the 40th anniversary of the British Social Attitudes survey. This year's report focuses on how society has changed over the last 40 years, exploring gender roles and work, sexual relationships, family and moral issues, class identity, the role of government, the generation and gender gap in politics, welfare and poverty trends.
To celebrate 40 years of the BSA, we will be holding a hybrid launch event at Portcullis House in Westminster, and the event will also be available to watch online.
British Social Attitudes is the National Centre for Social Research’s flagship study tracking social and political attitudes. The study began in 1983 and has been conducted every year since, except in 1988 and 1992 when funding was devoted instead to studies of voting behaviour and political attitudes in the British Election Study.
As a result of its longevity and regularly asking a representative sample of people their views on a wide range of topics, the survey is the 'gold standard' of survey series. Random probability sampling ensures that everyone has an equal chance of being picked to take part, so the results are representative of the British population.
We repeat many of the same questions over time, tracking attitudes and views towards everything from abortion, public spending, the NHS, taxation, the monarchy and more. Collecting this data over the years allows us to track notable trends where views have changed or stayed the same in Britain.
British Social Attitudes is run by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) and is made possible by the funding we receive from a variety of charitable and governmental sources each year.
Who funds British Social Attitudes?
This year, the survey is funded by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Economic and Social Research Council, King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust.
What do funders receive?
You can fund anywhere from 5 to 50 questions on the survey with a sample of between 1,000 and 3,000 people. You can also access more than 40 years’ worth of trend data, an array of demographics and have the opportunity to be part of the British Social Attitudes report.
- Trends over time: If you are funding questions that have been asked before then you can combine your results with the earlier data to update the time series, in some cases dating back to 1983.
- Demographic data: It is possible to analyse your questions by demographic data, from class, education, age and sex to region. The dataset also includes a wide range of other characteristics: our standard questions include political affiliation, employment, identity and income.
- The British Social Attitudes report: Your questions can be part of our flagship annual British Social Attitudes report. Or, if you would prefer, can be published separately.
Why British Social Attitudes?
- Robust method: A truly representative survey. We use random probability sampling to ensure that our findings give an accurate view of the British public.
- Influence: Politicians and policy-makers rely on the British Social Attitudes survey to see what the public thinks about the big issues of the day, to track social change and predict where attitudes will be in the future.
- Impact: Every year the survey reaches millions of people through the media, reported in hundreds of articles and across TV and radio news programmes; mentioned in thousands of social media posts; and discussed in Parliament.
What others say about British Social Attitudes
- “Demolishes several myths about who we are and what we think…”
- “The British Social Attitudes study is so valuable. I use it in my teaching every year.”
Professor Anthony Heath, Oxford University
- “People like me usually never get asked their opinion.”
If you are interested in funding some of the BSA questions, please contact a member of the BSA team at BSA@natcen.ac.uk.
The British Social Attitudes survey has been tracking key policy and social issues since 1983. These are just a few examples of how public opinion, and the British Social Attitudes survey in particular, has interacted with policy over the years.
National Health Service
BSA data from 2022/23 reported that satisfaction with the NHS had fallen to 29 per cent, the lowest level of satisfaction since the survey began. The UK Government has since published its mandate, promising to cut waiting times and to improve patient access to primary care.
Opposition to same-sex relationships peaked around the time of the HIV/AIDS scare in the mid-1980s. BSA showed that public attitudes then changed dramatically over the next 30 years. As attitudes changes, so government legislation has followed. In 2000 the proportion of people saying that sex between two adults of the same sex is wrong fell below 50% for the first time. We subsequently saw Labour pass legislation that lowered the age of consent from 18 to 16 (2000) and introduced civil partnerships (2004). By 2014 those opposed to same-sex relationships dropped to well under 30%. The same year, the Coalition government legalised same-sex marriage. By 2021, the proportion who were opposed had fallen to 13%.
The independence referendum
British Social Attitudes and its partner survey Scottish Social Attitudes were instrumental in providing impartial information about public attitudes during the campaign leading up to the referendum on Scottish Independence. They allowed us to understand the motivations of voters in Scotland and the likely reactions of the public in England and Wales. The Yes and No campaigns drew on the findings in shaping their campaigns as it became clear from our data that the potential impact of independence on the Scottish economy was the overriding factor in people’s voting intentions.
Trust in Government
British Social Attitudes has been tracking public trust in government since 1986 and has shown a steady decline, with the biggest falls coinciding with government scandals, including the cash for questions affair in 1994 and the expenses scandal in 2009. Numerous attempts have been made by successive governments to reverse this decline, but nothing has been successful to date. In 2013 only 17% of people trust the government to put the needs of the country ahead of their party; the figure stood at 20% in 2017.
British Social Attitudes has shown consistent support since 1983 for a right to die for people with incurable and painful diseases, but also a strong view that doctors should take these decisions, not family members. This data was submitted as evidence to the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee on assisted dying/assisted suicide in 2023. It is also regularly used by a number of organisations to campaign for compassionate assisted dying laws.
View British Social Attitudes reports from previous years. For archive or dataset requests, please email BSA@natcen.ac.uk.