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NEWS30 June 2016

Wide gulf between classes in NatCen social attitudes report

Brexit News Public Sector Trends UK

UK – After seven years of austerity measures Brits feel the class divide has widened but is split over how to respond, according to the 33rd annual British Social Attitudes report from NatCen Social Research.

Most people ( 77%) said the class divide is fairly or very wide, compared with 23% who said it is not very wide or there is no difference. People who identify as working class ( 82%) are more likely than those who say they are middle class ( 70%) to believe the divide between social classes is wide. 

And our society is seen as less mobile. More people believe it is difficult to move between classes today than did 10 years ago. Nearly three quarters ( 73%) believe it is fairly or very difficult to move between classes, compared with 65% who held this view in 2005. People who identify as working class are more likely than middle class identifiers to think moving between classes is very difficult.

Despite manual workers no longer being in the majority in Britain as a result of the decline of Britain’s manufacturing base, 60% of people described themselves as working class compared with 40% who said they are middle class – the same as in 1983. Almost half of people in professional and managerial occupations said they are working class.

Kirby Swales, director of NatCen’s Survey Centre, said: “Class divisions have been highlighted recently with the vote to leave the EU with some commentators talking about disaffection among the working class. Our findings certainly show that people who believe themselves to be working class are more likely to believe in a class divide than those who say they are middle class; and more think it is difficult to move between classes than did in the past.

“Class identity is also closely linked to attitudes in other areas. Those who say they are working class are far more likely to be opposed to immigration, one of the defining issues of the EU Referendum, even when they are in professional and managerial jobs.”

Austerity measures are also starting to affect attitudes to public spending. Support for increases in overall public spending and spending on benefits was higher than it was before the financial crash, while more people think that the NHS has a severe funding problem.

Public backing for more taxation and public spending is at its highest point ( 45%) for a decade. Almost as many now want to see spending and taxation increased as would like them to stay the same ( 47%).

A majority are opposed to cuts to welfare and 39% thought that the government should spend more on welfare benefits for the poor – higher than at any time since 2003.

Almost everyone ( 93%), thought the NHS has a funding problem and 32% say this problem is severe – up from 19% in 2014. In spite of this, there was no consensus about how to bridge the funding gap – 42% were willing to pay more through taxes but 26% said the NHS should live within its means.

Elizabeth Clery, research director, NatCen Social Research: “After seven years of austerity the public is clearly worried about the funding of the NHS and reckons that, for some groups at least, spending on benefits should be increased.

“However, not all cuts to welfare are unpopular. Almost half the public want cuts to unemployment benefits and very few want to see them increased. Even a supposedly controversial cut to benefits like the ‘bedroom tax’ is pretty popular among a large segment of the population. This is especially true for young people who may be struggling to find an affordable place to live.”

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