Public expectations of government at record high
The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) has published its latest British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey. It shows how social and political attitudes in Britain have changed in the 40 years since the survey began in 1983.
Research shows that an apparent decline between the mid-1980s and mid-2000s in expectations of what government should do has reversed. As a result, expectations of government are now at a record high. In contrast to how they have reacted previously, voters in Britain show no sign so far of wanting a reversal of the rise in taxation and spending that has been prompted by the pandemic.
Public expectations of government responsibilities are now at a record high
- The number of people who think government should be ‘definitely’ responsible for keeping prices under control has more than doubled from 31% in 2006 to 68% now – a record high.
- 53% believe the government should be responsible for reducing income differences between the rich and poor – also a record high.
- 63% now think government should be providing industry with the help it needs to grow. This is also the highest figure recorded and compares with just 27% in 2006.
- Support has always been highest for the government taking on responsibility for providing health care for the sick (currently backed by 89%) and providing a decent standard of living for the old (81%).
- In contrast, providing a decent standard of living for the unemployed (currently backed by 38%) and providing a job for everyone who wants one (34%) have always been least popular.
- Now 42% say that spending on ‘military and defence’ should be increased, compared with just 8% in 1990.
- The proportion who said that having its own nuclear weapons makes Britain a safer place to live fell from 60% in 1983 to 45% in 1994, but now stands at 65%.
No reaction against post-COVID increases in taxation and spending
- When faced with a choice between increasing taxation and spending on ‘health, education and social benefits’, reducing taxation and spending or keeping both the same, as many as 55% say that taxation and spending should be increased. This is similar to the 53% who expressed that view before the pandemic, in 2019.
- In contrast, support for increased taxation and spending fell from 63% in 2002 to 31% in 2010, following the increases in taxation and spending implemented by the Labour government of 1997 to 2010.
- There is little disagreement between Conservative and Labour supporters about some of the responsibilities that government should take on. Around nine in ten of both Labour (94%) and Conservative (89%) supporters think it ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ should be the government’s responsibility to provide health care for the sick. They also hold similar views about the government providing a decent standard of living for the old.
- However, Labour supporters (70%) are much more likely than Conservatives (27%) to state that it ‘definitely’ should be government’s responsibility to reduce income differences between the rich and poor.
- 55% of Labour supporters think it ‘definitely’ should be government’s responsibility to provide a decent standard of living for the unemployed, whereas only 22% of Conservative supporters agree with this stance.
- The difference between the views of Labour and Conservative supporters on what responsibilities government should take on are much the same now as they were in the 1980s.
- However, now Conservative supporters (67%) are now more than twice as likely as their Labour counterparts (32%) to say that defence spending should be increased.
Sir John Curtice, Senior Research Fellow at the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), said: “Both Conservative and Labour voters have changed their minds about the role of government and about taxation and spending over the years. Rather than simply being driven by ideology, they change their attitudes in response to changed circumstances. And it seems that for many voters, however attractive it might once have seemed, the era of smaller government that Margaret Thatcher aimed to promulgate – and which Liz Truss briefly tried to restore in the autumn of 2022 with her ill-fated ‘dash for growth’ – now seems a world away. They appear to be looking to government to take a significant role in finding a way out of the difficult legacy that the pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have created. The challenge facing politicians of all parties between now and the election will be to convince the electorate that they can meet their high expectations.”
For more information please contact:
Emileigh Spurdens, Communications Manager, National Centre for Social Research
Direct: 0207 549 8506
Katie Crabb, Head of Marketing and Communications, National Centre for Social Research
Direct: 0207 549 8504