Press release

Younger people move to the left – but not keen on higher taxes

The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) has published its latest British Social Attitudes report.
  • Publishing date:
    21 September 2023

The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) has published its latest British Social Attitudes report. It shows how social and political attitudes in Britain have changed in the 40 years since the survey began in 1983.

In 2022, Labour is the most popular party among the under 35s, whereas the Conservatives are most popular among those aged 55 and over. This age gap, which has doubled in size since 2015, barely existed in the 1980s.

Younger people have become rather more concerned than older people about inequality. On a scale designed to measure where people stand on this issue, young people are in the latest survey eight points more left-wing than older people (28 vs. 36).

But this gap has only emerged in the last three years. Younger people have long been more likely than older people to support Labour even though they were not necessarily more left-wing, a pattern that was particularly evident during the years of the New Labour government.

However, despite their concern about inequality, younger people are less likely than older people to say that taxation and spending on ‘health, education and social benefits’ should be increased.

  • In the latest survey, only 43% of those aged under 35 support that view, compared with 67% of those aged 55 and over. 
  • Forty years ago, younger people were somewhat more likely than older people to back more tax and spend. In 1984, 42% of those aged under 35 said that taxes and spending should be increased, compared with 33% among those 55 and over.

What has been consistent over the last 40 years is a tendency for younger people to be more ‘liberal’ than their older counterparts. They are more inclined to the view that individuals should be free to make their own social and moral choices rather than society enforcing its own standards. In our latest survey, younger people are ten points more liberal than older people on this issue.

Sir John Curtice, Senior Fellow at the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) said: “The impact of the pandemic on younger people’s educational and employment prospects, together with the difficulty that many younger people have in finding affordable housing, may have made them more attuned to some of the inequality that exists in Britain. At the same time, however, they may also have become aware of how, in an ageing society, public spending has become increasingly focused on the needs of the old – illustrated most vividly perhaps by the increasing cost of university tuition while old age pensions have been treated generously. As a result, their concern about inequality is not matched by greater support for more spending.”

“Meanwhile, Labour might be concerned that younger people are backing the party without necessarily being especially left-wing, a pattern that could mean they might yet be won over by the Conservatives as they get older. Indeed, unless that does happen, the Conservatives face the prospect of declining support as today’s older voters gradually leave the electorate.”

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