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What we want from the Welfare State

Young people in Britain are increasingly less supportive of the welfare state than their elders. Twenty years ago 18-34 year olds were five percentage points more likely than those aged over 55 to support higher taxes and increased public spending. Now they are nine points less likely to support this approach to the welfare state.

This research by Tom Sefton of the School's Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE), forms a chapter in the latest British Social Attitudes report, published by Sage on Tuesday 9 December. Based on 50,000 interviews carried out since 1983, the report considers Britain's attitudes and values on issues such as transport, health, the welfare state, racism, politics and work.

Tom Sefton found that younger people also believe that the state pension will not be their main source of income in retirement. Around three quarters (79 per cent of those aged under 35 and 71 per cent of 35-54 year olds) accept they will depend on private pension plans, even though almost eight out of ten (79 per cent) people of all ages believe it is the government's responsibility to provide a decent standard of living for the old.

Support for higher spending on health, education, and social benefits has increased considerably over the last 20 years. In 1983 almost a third (32 per cent) believed there should be higher taxes and increased spending - by 2003 that proportion had risen to almost two thirds (63 per cent). Indeed, there has been growing suport for these 'core' services to be improved. But people's attitudes have generally hardened towards spending on welfare benefits for the poor.

Research fellow Tom Sefton said: 'One of the interesting findings is that support for higher public spending has risen among Conservative voters while we found that Labour voters have hardened their attitudes towards benefit claimants. So it seems as thought public attitudes towards the welfare state are now less divided on ideological grounds than ever before.'


For the full press release on British Social Attitudes: the 20th report: continuity and change over two decades, click here|

Contact Tom Sefton, CASE, on 020 7955 7613 or email: t.a.sefton@lse.ac.uk|

Visit the National Centre for Social Research website at http://www.natcen.ac.uk/|

16 December 2003