Publication - Research and analysis

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

Published: 24 Mar 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.

Public Attitudes to Poverty, Inequality and Welfare in Scotland and Britain
4. Scottish And British Attitudes To Public And Welfare Spending

4. Scottish And British Attitudes To Public And Welfare Spending

4.1. Another relevant area of attitudinal research relates to views on taxation and government spending in general and spending specifically on welfare benefits in particular. Support for high levels of taxation and spending can be interpreted as support for redistribution from the better off to the worst off in society, while welfare spending in general is targeted at those most in need.

4.2. The BSA and SSA include a question about desired taxation and public spending levels, where respondents can choose from the following options:

  • reducing taxes and spending less on health, education etc.;
  • keeping taxes and spending on these services at the same level; or
  • increasing taxes and spending more on health, education, etc.

4.3. In Scotland in 2014, a large minority thought that taxes and spending should be increased. Almost half of people in Scotland (48%) thought that taxes and public spending should be kept at the same level, while 44% thought they should be increased. Only 4% thought that taxes and spending should be decreased.

4.4. For comparison, in the equivalent BSA question in 2013, respondents were slightly less generous: 54% were in favour of keeping taxing and spending at the same level, 36% wanted to increase it, and 6% wanted to reduce it.

4.5. The majority of people in Scotland were opposed to any budget cuts as part of UK welfare reforms, or felt that cuts were too deep or were happening too soon. The Scotpulse survey asked respondents to select one from a number of statements about the welfare reforms introduced by the UK government.

4.6. As Figure 5 shows, the most popular response (40%) was that 'we should not be reducing money available to the poorest in society'. However, this is still a minority response.

4.7. A slightly smaller percentage indicated support for the cuts, either because 'we spend too much on welfare (16%), or because 'they are necessary as we need to reduce the budget deficit' (11%). Twenty five per cent thought 'the cuts were necessary but were too deep and too soon'.

Figure 5 - Attitudes to welfare reform in Scotland, 2013

Attitudes to welfare reform in Scotland

Source: Scotpulse survey

4.8. British support for extra spending on welfare benefits declined between the late 1980s and 2011, but in 2012 and 2013 showed a slight increase. The BSA includes another, slightly different question asking if the government should spend more money on welfare benefits for the poor even if it leads to higher taxes. In 2013, 36% agreed with this proposition, whilst 32% disagreed and 30% neither agreed nor disagreed. Over the last two decades, support for more spending on welfare benefits declined up until 2011, and then increased, with an increase of 8 percentage points in the 2013 figure compared to 2011, as can be seen in Figure 6 below.

Figure 6 - Percentage agreeing that "the government should spend more money on welfare benefits for the poor even if it leads to higher taxes", 1987-2013

Percentage agreeing that the government should spend more money on welfare benefits for the poor even if it leads to higher taxes

Source: British Social Attitudes Survey

4.9. Figures from 2013 indicated that there was still a strong feeling of there being more deserving and less deserving claimants. In Scotland, the SSA in 2013 asked if the government should spend more or less on benefits for unemployed people, disabled people who can't work and retired people.

4.10. Sixty-one per cent wanted to spend more on disabled people who could not work, and 57% wanted to spend more on retired people. However, only 20% wanted to see more spending on unemployed people and 43% wanted to see spending reduced for this group. Note that this represents a slightly more positive attitude towards unemployment benefits than in Britain as a whole as discussed below.

4.11. The question in the BSA asked whether there should be more or less government spending on six different categories: benefits for unemployed people; benefits for single parents; benefits for disabled people who cannot work; benefits for people who care for those who are sick or disabled; benefits for retired people and benefits for parents who work on very low incomes.

4.12. The majority of British respondents advocated more spending on people who care for those who are sick or disabled (73%); parents who work on a very low income (59%); and disabled people who cannot work (54%). Nearly half (48%) wanted more spending for retired people; but only 15% thought that more should be spent on unemployment benefits. Meanwhile nearly half (49%) thought that less should be spent on benefits for unemployed people.

4.13. Support for extra spending on unemployment benefits remained low, but increased over the last five years.Respondents in the BSA were asked to choose their first and second priorities for extra welfare spending. They could choose from: retirement pensions; child benefits; benefits for the unemployed, benefits for disabled people and benefits for single parents.

4.14. Figure 7 below shows the first and second priorities for extra government spending on different benefits over time. Again, there was more support for spending on some benefits than others, with retirement pensions and benefits for the disabled consistently being the British public's top two priorities for additional welfare spending.

Figure 7 - First and second priorities for extra government spending on different benefits, 1983 - 2010

First and second priorities for extra government spending on different benefits

Source: British Social Attitudes Survey, after Clery et al (2013), p.33

4.15. The public were least likely to advocate more spending for those on unemployment benefits, with 12% in 2012 selecting this as one of their top two priorities for extra spending on welfare. This is substantially lower than levels recorded between the 1980s and the mid-1990s, which fluctuated between 20 and 35%, but was an increase of five percentage points from 2007, where it stood at its lowest ever level of 7%. This might indicate that the prolonged economic downturn has increased support for extra spending on unemployment benefits.


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