Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2013: core module - attitudes to Government, the economy, health and social care services, and social capital in Scotland

This report presents findings from the Scottish Government core module in the 2013 Scottish Social Attitudes survey. It discusses changing attitudes to government, the economy and standards of living, the health service and social care, and social capital and life satisfaction.

This document is part of a collection

1 Introduction

Background and context

1.1 The relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK has evolved significantly in recent years. The Scotland Act 2012, which gave the Scottish Parliament powers to create new taxes and to set a Scottish rate of income tax, was passed in May 2012[2] (Scotland Act, 2012). Although the impacts will not be fully felt until 2015-16, the Act represented a significant extension of the powers of the Scotland Act 1998 which created the Scottish Parliament.

1.2 The SNP manifesto 2011 (SNP 2011), which formed the basis of the programme for government following the SNP election victory in May 2011, included a commitment to hold a referendum on Scottish independence during its 5-year term. In March 2013 it was announced that the date for the referendum would be 18 September 2014[3]. This followed a public consultation on arrangements for a referendum which had been held during 2012 (see for an analysis of the responses of this consultation, Griesbach et al, 2012), and advice provided by the Electoral Commission on issues such as the referendum question and spending limits for the campaigns[4]. Following the announcement, the various political parties and stakeholder groups began to articulate their positions and to form alliances for the two main positions[5]. Importantly, in terms of defining the electorate for the referendum, the Scottish Government suggested that 16 and 17 year olds should also be allowed to vote. In June 2013, the Bill allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote in the referendum was passed by MSPs.

Economic Context

1.3 These political developments took place against a background of ongoing economic austerity, uncertainty and public sector budget constraint, in which major reform of the public sector both north and south of the border were centre stage. Public spending for the UK fell by 2.9% from 2010-11 to 2011-12, (HM Treasury 2013a) (the outturn figures for 2012-13 are not yet available at the time of writing) with plans to reduce expenditure further over the period to 2014-2015 (HM Treasury 2013b).

1.4 The Scottish Government's total budget for 2013-14 represented a real-terms reduction of 3.0% from 2012-13, and a cumulative real-terms reduction of 9.7% since 2010-11, with a further real-terms reduction of 1.7% from 2013-14 to 2014-15 planned (Scottish Government, 2012a). NHS revenue budgets continued to be protected in Scotland, whilst Scottish Government funding for local government was frozen for the sixth successive year.

1.5 Moreover, figures from the Office for National Statistics have highlighted that real wages in the UK have fallen consistently since 2010, the longest period for 50 years[6]. Thus, the squeeze on household budgets has continued, as public services are cut back and wages decrease.

1.6 As far as the economy was concerned, there were signs that a recovery might have begun towards the end of 2012 (around 6 months before the fieldwork for the Scottish Social Attitudes survey 2013 began) both in the UK and in Scotland. There was an annual increase in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the UK of 2.0% in the period 2012 (Q3) to 2013 (Q3) and this increase was similar for Scotland (2.1%) over the same period (National Statistics Publication, 2013). The GfK UK Consumer Confidence Index also improved steadily during 2013[7]. In Scotland, the State of the Economy report (Scottish Government, 2013a) also presented evidence to suggest that the recovery in Scotland gained momentum in 2013. However, commentators both north and south of the border were cautious in interpreting these indicators as evidence of an underlying improvement.

Public Sector Reform

1.7 The Christie Commission report (2011) set out the direction of travel for the reform of public services in Scotland over the medium term[8]. The report emphasised: the role of the public in shaping services; the importance of effective coordination across public service organisations to achieve outcomes; the requirement to focus on prevention, reducing inequalities and promoting equality; and the continuing drive to improve efficiency, quality and accountability. It is possible that the implementation of the Christie Commission report recommendations could, over time, have an impact on public attitudes both to government (by, for example, altering the role of the public in shaping services) and to the services (including health and social care services) themselves (by, for example, altering the range and types of service provider).

1.8 The welfare reform legislation as set out in the Welfare Reform Act (2012) applies equally across all UK administrations. In particular, the creation of a single merged 'universal credit' which brings together a range of working-age benefits into a single system, represents a fundamental change to the welfare system. The changes are being introduced on a phased basis following the evaluation of pilot schemes, and the full impacts will not be known for a number of years. However, the reforms are substantial and controversial, and it is possible that public attitudes, especially perhaps towards the UK Government (since welfare is not a devolved issue), may be affected in the longer term. In addition, the reforms may affect standards of living, especially for those who are in receipt of state benefits.

1.9 The NHS in England underwent a major restructuring from 1 April 2013, whereby the arrangements for the commissioning of services was fundamentally altered. Primary care trusts and strategic health authorities were abolished, and new organisations (clinical commissioning groups) were set up in their place[9]. No such reorganisation was effected in Scotland. The radical nature of these changes might be expected to affect public attitudes towards government (especially the UK Government).

Focus on Public Engagement

1.10 In recent years, both the Scottish and UK Governments have increased their efforts to engage with the public not just at election time, but throughout policy and election cycles. They believe not only that this broader engagement is vital for a healthy, modern democracy but also that it will lead to better policy making. The willingness of citizens to participate in this depends, in turn, on their views of government. If the public trusts government to act in their interests, to make fair decisions, and to listen to their views they may be more likely to respond positively, whilst if they hold more negative views they may opt out. Thus understanding who holds more positive (and negative) views can help government to develop strategies for engaging those whose voices may otherwise go unheard.

1.11 This emphasis on increasing public engagement has been widely discussed and promoted, particularly since the publication of the Power Inquiry (White, 2006), which argued that the political system in the UK had not evolved to adequately respond to the changing needs of citizens. In Scotland, the Christie Commission report (2011) recommended making provision in the Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill (Scottish Government, 2013a) to embed community participation in the design and delivery of public services, whilst in the UK, a recent Commons Select Committee Report (House of Commons, 2013) has argued for a '…. "wiki" approach to policy making, where public opinion, ideas and contributions are sought and welcome at any and all stages of the policy cycle'.

1.12 These ideas build on more standard processes of consultation which are a longstanding and key part of the development of policy and legislative proposals in both Scotland and the UK, as well as on the many and varied exercises to measure and report on public attitudes on specific policy issues (e.g. energy and climate change[10]) as part of the policy process. Moreover, both in the UK and Scotland, policy teams are working more closely with digital experts to accelerate the shift from the use of digital platforms and networks as mainly for communication to their use as tools for policy engagement[11]. The recent report from the Carnegie Trust (Wallace, 2013) has summarised the evidence in relation to moving from the welfare state to the 'enabling state', and has focused, inter alia, on progress in moving towards more locally designed services and seeking to broaden the range of people who participate in democratic decision making.

Why monitor public attitudes to government, the economy and public services?

1.13 In relation to public services, the Scottish Government's National Indicators, which set out key targets against which their progress in meeting strategic objectives can be assessed, include a commitment to 'improve people's perceptions of the quality of public services'. SSA 2013 included a range of questions on public attitudes to the NHS and who should provide and pay for care. The answers to these questions can help those tasked with planning services to understand how far the public may be prepared to support some of the changes suggested as potential ways of delivering efficiencies in a context of budgetary constraint (e.g. the Christie Commission recommendations on the diversification of service providers).

1.14 It is also important to track changes in attitudes over time in order to examine, both the relationship between changes in peoples' circumstances and changes in their attitudes, and the relationship between changes in government policy and changes in attitudes.

Report structure

1.15 The remainder of the report is structured as follows:

Chapter two discusses changing attitudes to the Scottish Government and Parliament and to the UK Government across a range of key areas (trust in government, awareness of government activities, perceptions of responsiveness to the public, and perceptions of efficacy)

Chapter three looks at changing views of the economy and living standards in Scotland

Chapter four summarises trends in views on the health service and care for the elderly

Chapter five focuses on general life satisfaction and social capital and whether these have changed over time

Chapter six summarises the key findings and conclusions.

Research questions

1.16 This report presents findings on two key questions relating to the relationship between the public, the government and public services::

How have attitudes to government, the economy and standards of living, the health service and social care, changed over time?

What factors are related to trust in the Scottish Government and who people think has, and ought to have, most influence over the way Scotland is run?

In addition this year's report also considers a further question that is of particular relevance in the context of the experience, over recent years, of economic recession and now potential recovery:

What is the relationship between social capital and life satisfaction?

About the data

1.17 The 2013 Scottish Social Attitudes survey (SSA) took place against the backdrop of political change and economic austerity described above, with fieldwork taking place between June and October 2013. SSA is an annual survey of social and political attitudes in Scotland. Run by ScotCen Social Research since 1999, it provides a reliable and robust picture of changing public opinion over time.

1.18 This report presents findings from the Scottish Government 'core module' of questions on public attitudes to: government, the economy, living standards, public services relating to health and social care, and social capital. It examines attitudes in each of these areas and reflects on potential associations with the political and economic backdrop. This core module has been funded by the Scottish Government since 2004 but in many cases continued time series begun in 1999. In addition, a module on constitutional issues, which included a number of items from the core module, was funded by the ESRC on SSA 2012. The findings from 2012 are included in this core module report where appropriate.

1.19 The Scottish Social Attitudes survey (SSA) is based on interviews with a representative probability sample of the Scottish population. In 2013, the sample size was 1,497. Interviews are conducted in respondents' homes, using computer assisted personal interviewing technology. Most of the interview is conducted face-to-face by a ScotCen interviewer, but some questions each year are asked in a self-completion section. The survey has achieved a response rate of between 54% and 65% in each year since 1999 (in 2013, the response rate was 55%). The data are weighted to correct for over-sampling, non-response bias and to ensure they reflect the sex-age profile of the Scottish population. Further technical details about the survey are included in Annex B.

1.20 While the analysis in this report focuses particularly on 2013 data, extensive use is made of earlier years of SSA. It also builds on the findings presented in previous SSA reports on attitudes to government and public services (particularly Bromley and Given, 2005, Curtice, 2007, Given and Ormston, 2007a and b, Ormston and Sharp, 2007a and b, Ormston, 2008, Ormston, 2010, Ormston and Reid, 2011, and Ormston and Reid 2012).

Analysis and reporting conventions

1.21 All percentages cited in this report are based on the weighted data (see Annex B for details) and are rounded to the nearest whole number. All differences described in the text (between years, or between different groups of people) are statistically significant at the 95% level or above, unless otherwise specified. This means that the probability of having found a difference of at least this size if there was no actual difference in the population is 5% or less. The term 'significant' is used in this report to refer to statistical significance, and is not intended to imply substantive importance. Further details of significance testing and multivariate analysis conducted for this report is included in Annex B.

Use of 'Scottish Government' and 'Scottish Executive' in this report

1.22 On 3rd September 2007, the ruling administration took the decision to change the name 'Scottish Executive' to 'Scottish Government'. Questions in SSA 2009 (and all later waves) therefore referred to the 'Scottish Government' rather than the 'Scottish Executive'. However, the term 'Scottish Executive' is used in this report when referring to findings from 2007 and earlier. Footnotes and endnotes to tables and charts provide further details on any changes to question wording over time.


Email: Wendy van Rijswijk

Back to top