NEWS28 June 2017

UK is divided on immigration but socially liberal

Brexit News Trends UK

UK – The British public are showing ever increasing levels of social liberalisation but a decreasing belief in the austerity measures introduced seven years ago, according to the latest social attitudes study.

Crowds crop

The National Centre for Social Research’s latest British Social Attitudes research study has been released at a time of political polarisation and uncertainty as the UK government begins Brexit negations with the EU, faces multiple terrorist attacks, a reshaping of the political landscape and several years of austerity measures.

The wide-reaching research looks at the trends and division within UK society and examines changing attitudes to the EU, immigration, personal issues, benefits and tax, and the role of government and civil liberties.

Among its key findings were:

  • After seven years of austerity, the public is turning against spending less

For the first time since the 2007/8 recession, more people ( 48%) want tax increased to allow greater spending, than want tax and spend levels to remain the same ( 44%). More people agree ( 42%) than disagree ( 28%) that the government should redistribute income from the wealthier to the less well-off.

This is however still significantly lower than seen in the 90s when 63% in 1998 and 65% in 1991 wanted more tax and spending.

  • Tough on threats at home and overseas

Although the research was done before the recent Manchester and London terror attacks, it was done in a climate of heightened concerns of terrorism.

Half of the public ( 53%) support the government being able to detain people indefinitely without putting them on trial – the current legal limit is 14 days. The majority ( 70%) support authorities having the right to stop and search people at random during times of terrorist attacks.

Half the population ( 50%) think the government have the right to monitor emails and other information exchanged on the internet.

  • Tough on benefit fraud and tax evasion

Almost everyone ( 91%) thinks that using false information to support a claim is usually wrong, and this falls only slightly if the person is using a ‘legal-loophole’ ( 61% and 48%, respectively). 

Overall, people are slightly tougher on benefit fraud than tax evasion – 68% think it is wrong to not declare casual work to the benefit office to gain £500, compared with 56% thinking that it is wrong not to declare casual work for tax purposes to gain £500.

The research pointed to those on higher incomes and those who are on the right are more relaxed about tax loopholes while those on the left tend to be more relaxed about people using benefit loopholes.

  • The rise of social liberalism

Two-thirds of people ( 64%) say that same-sex relationships are ‘not wrong at all’ – up from 59% in 2015, and 47% in 2012. On pre-marital sex, a significant majority ( 75%) say that it is ‘not at all wrong’, an increase of 11 percentage points since 2012.

And these increasingly liberal attitudes to both same-sex relationships and pre-marital sex is occurring in every age cohort.

Record levels of people say an abortion should be allowed if a woman decides on her own she does not want the child ( 70%) or if a couple cannot afford any more children ( 65%). And among Catholics, the proportion who agree an abortion should be allowed if a woman does not want the child has increased from 33% in 1985 to 61% in 2016.

Transgender has been researched for the first time in this Social Attitudes study and found that the vast majority of the public ( 84%) describe themselves as ‘not prejudiced at all’ towards transgender people. However, less than half of people say that a suitably qualified transgender person should definitely be employed as a police officer or primary school teacher ( 43% and 41% respectively), suggesting a gap between the theory and practice of  people’s attitudes.

  • Division on Brexit and immigration

The researchers found that immigration was very much at the heart of the referendum vote for leaving the EU.

Indeed, in the years leading up to the vote it found a growing divide between young people with a degree education and older people with no formal qualifications in their views about the economic impact of immigration. 

For example, 62% of those with a degree, and 48% of those aged 18- to 29-years-old now believe immigration has a positive impact on the economy, while just 29% of those with GCSEs as their highest qualification (or no qualifications) and just 29% of those aged over 70 hold the same view.

And its research point to the social divide in attitudes towards immigration as bigger in the UK than anywhere else in Europe.