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Public Attitudes to Poverty, Inequality and Welfare in Scotland and Britain

Public Attitudes to Poverty, Inequality and Welfare in Scotland and Britain

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

ISBN: 9781785441967

This report sets out public attitudes to poverty, inequality and welfare in Scotland and Britain, from a range of previously published sources. The report focuses on Scottish findings wherever possible, presenting British data as a proxy where Scottish data is not available.

Executive Summary

Key Findings and Conclusions:

The findings provide a clear mandate for Scottish government action to tackle poverty. Nearly all people in Scotland (98%( felt it was important to tackle child poverty and 83% saw the gap between those on high incomes and those on low incomes as too large. 75% that tackling child poverty is the job of the Scottish Government.

Views on the nature of government intervention are mixed, although more people are in favour of redistribution than oppose it. For example, halfd of respondents in Scotland agreed that the government should redistribute income from the better off to the less well off, while a quarter disagreed. The mixed views underline the importance on engagement on these issues and gaining a clearer understanding of the range of views and the motivations that underpin them.

Knowledge of poverty levels and policies is limited. Only 20% of survey respondents in 2013 in Britain accurately estimated child poverty rates. People may disengage from poverty issues if they feel the problem is overstated, which highlights the importance of wider dissemination of accurate poverty figures.

Official definitions of poverty do not resonate with the public. Qualitative research participants believed official income-based poverty measures to be too narrow, and preferred terminology around ‘ability to meet basic needs’. There was a high level of public agreement in 2012 about the ‘necessities of life’ everyone should have access to. Communications drawing on needs-based definitions may help build public engagement in, and support of, policies to tackle poverty.

Individual explanations of poverty are more common than structural explanations, and attitudes have hardened over recent years. For example, in 2010, 23% of people in Britain thought that people live in need because of laziness or a lack of willpower, an increase from 15% in 1994. However, qualitative research evidence shows that the public appreciate the complexities of causes when given an opportunity to consider them fully. Government may play a role in promoting a more realistic and balanced understanding of the causes of poverty.

Negative attitudes to welfare recipients are widespread. In 2013, in Britain, around a third thought that benefit recipients should feel at least somewhat ashamed to be claiming. There is strong evidence that stigmatisation of welfare recipients has negative impacts on their well-being and may reduce benefit take up. Therefore, addressing stigma may make existing anti-poverty policies more effective.

There is a lack of understanding of welfare issues. In 2013 in Britain, 44% felt that benefits for a single unemployed person were not enough to live on. This rose to 56% when respondents were told the true amount of benefit payments. Government communications could usefully focus on how much money people in poverty (and on benefits) actually have.