NEWS12 July 2018

United or divided Kingdom?

News Trends UK

UK – While Britain remains divided on political issues such as Brexit, the British Social Attitudes report, published this week, highlights that trust levels are better and people increasingly share the same attitudes on other topics such as gender, low wages and the NHS.

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Age and education were still big dividers when it came to people’s attitudes towards Britain’s membership of the EU, according to the report from NatCen. Those aged 55 and over ( 49%) and those with no formal qualifications ( 54%) are more likely than young people ( 18-34, 23%) and graduates ( 19%) to want to leave the EU.

Additionally, while Labour secured 62% of the votes of 18- to 34-year-olds at the 2017 general election, over half ( 55%) of over-65s voted Conservative, making age the biggest predictor of how people voted. Speaking at an event to launch the British Social Attitudes report in London, Roger Harding, head of public attitudes at NatCen, said: “There has always been an age divide in party political voting, but nowhere near to this extent, and it’s therefore changing some of the other divides, such as the class divide in politics.”

Despite divisions, trust levels in the UK haven’t decreased, according to the research. More than half of the population ( 54%) believe ‘people can be trusted’, up from 47% in 2014 and the highest level since the question was first asked in 1998. Meanwhile, 42% agree with the statement that ‘you can’t be too careful when dealing with other people’. “Higher levels of trust tend to be associated with people who are graduates and people with larger social networks. We also find that higher trust is associated with participation in social, sporting and cultural activities at a local level,” explained Harding.

And while there are still political divisions, the UK is becoming more united on some social issues, such as views on gender roles, according to the research, which found that 73% of people disagree with the statement ‘it is a man’s job to earn money and a woman’s job to stay at home and look after the family’. This contrasts with the results for the same question in 1987, when only a third ( 33%) disagreed and 48% of people agreed with the statement. Agreement has dropped to 8% in the most recent survey.

There is still an age and educational divide here, as in other areas – 75% of those aged 18-34 and 82% of graduates disagreed with the statement, compared with 67% of 65- to 74-year-olds and 55% of people with no formal qualifications. However, the difference between the proportions of 18- to 34-year-olds who disagree and the proportion of those aged 75 and over who think the same has dropped from 46 points in 2012 to 27 points in 2017, indicating that the age gap is narrowing.

When it comes to attitudes towards economic and public issues, 77% think that employers should pay sufficient wages and 70% think that the government should supplement the wages of single parents. Meanwhile, the population is in agreement that the NHS is struggling – 86% agree that it has a major or severe funding crisis, and 61% would be willing to pay more tax to increase spending on the NHS.

The survey also suggests that while people are aware of, and see the threat of, global challenges such as climate change and the rise of automation, levels of concern remains low. The vast majority ( 93%) agree and understand that the climate is changing, but only a quarter ( 25%) are very or extremely worried by it. Meanwhile, three-quarters ( 75%) think many jobs will be replaced by machines in the next decade, but only 10% of respondents are concerned about the impact on their own jobs.

Harding said: “We undoubtedly have a big political divide, particularly around Brexit, but there are plenty of other issues on which we’re on the same page or even becoming more united. If anything, those issues could be pointers on how we could become more united politically in future.”

Polly Mackenzie, director at Demos, also speaking at the launch event, said: “Our political environment at the moment is equal parts outrage and paralysis. That’s concerning for us as a country because we can’t afford a lost decade. We urgently need to rebuild a sense of legitimacy for our public and private institutions to take action to solve the problems that we face and rebuild a sense of purpose, unity and direction that can unite us instead of dividing us. Neither of those is possible without listening to people more successfully and with an open mind.”