British Social Attitudes 32

The verdict on five years of coalition government

This summary of NatCen’s 32nd British Social Attitudes report takes stock of the public’s reactions to the last five years.
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Corner of Whitehall and Downing Street

About the study

2010 saw the formation of Britain’s first coalition government since 1945. This summary of NatCen’s 32nd British Social Attitudes report takes stock of the public’s reactions to the last five years. How have the public responded to the Coalition’s radical programme of public service reform and spending cuts? Has the political upheaval associated with the rise of UKIP coincided with an increase in Euroscepticism? And as we enter another general election campaign, how is the political health of the nation? 

Muted reaction to reform

In spite of cuts in public spending and radical reforms to public services during the past five years, changes in public opinion across a number of areas have been limited.

  • The proportion favouring more taxation and more spending on health, education and social benefits has increased by just five percentage points, from 32% in 2010 to 37% in 2014.
  • Satisfaction with the NHS remains high. At 65% it is almost identical to 2009 levels.
  • Public support for the principle of university tuition fees has changed little over the last decade.

A changing political landscape

The rise of UKIP does not appear to be a simple reflection of increased Euroscepticism among the British public.

  • While Euroscepticism is more prevalent now than it was before the Coalition was formed, and while a majority want either to leave the EU (24%) or for its powers to be reduced (38%), this majority is no bigger now than it was before UKIP’s vote began to increase in 2012.
  • UKIP supporters are not straightforwardly ‘right wing’ – on issues of economic inequality, their views are more consistent with a left wing perspective.
  • However, they are particularly suspicious of government, a mood that is not uncommon among the public as a whole: over half of us (53%) think the government does not much care “what people like me think”.

Pressures on the next government

Our data point to at least three major pressures with which the next government will need to deal, whatever its colour.

  • NHS funding: while most people accept the NHS faces a funding crisis, there is little public consensus about how to address it.
  • The welfare bill: lack of support for more spending on welfare benefits suggests that the next government will remain under pressure to curb welfare spending.
  • UK-EU relations: the current level of Euroscepticism among the public suggests that managing our relationship with the EU will continue to be challenging for any future government.

See below to download additional chapters from the British Social Attitudes 32 report.