10 Sep 2013

How British attitudes have changed over 30 years

British people have hardened their view on the NHS in recent years but softened in their attitude towards state benefits for the unemployed, according to the British Social Attitudes survey.

The British Social Attitudes Report found that six in 10 (61 per cent) people in Britain are now satisfied with the NHS.

This compares to a low point in 1997 when 34 per cent were satisfied and a high point in 2010 when 70 per cent were satisfied.

Since the report began in 1983 there have been three switches in government power from Conservative (to 1997), to Labour (1997 to 2010), to the current coalition government.

Spending on the NHS has more than trebled in real terms in the past 30 years, from around £39bn in 1983 to nearly £120bn in 2012.

In 1983 55 per cent of the public were satisfied with the NHS, twice the proportion (26 per cent) who felt dissatisfied with how it was run.

Three years later, in 1986, satisfaction levels had dropped to only 40 per cent of the population, with equal proportions expressing dissatisfaction.

Over the subsequent decade and a half, to 2001, while levels of satisfaction fluctuated a little, the broad trend was relatively flat – the lowest point was in 1997 when only 34 per cent of the population was satisfied and half (50 per cent) reported being dissatisfied.

Then, between 2001 and 2010, satisfaction rose, with 2010 seeing 70 per cent of the British population satisfied with the NHS, nearly four times the number of people who were dissatisfied.

In the last two years, satisfaction levels with the NHS have dropped dramatically, to 61 per cent in 2012.

Attitudes towards benefits

The survey also found people in the UK had more sympathy for those out of work in 2012 than they did in 2011.

However, experts from NatCen Social Research, which published the report, found that despite the recent increase in support for benefits, it is still far lower than it was in the late 1980s.

According to the report, 51 per cent of Britons in 2012 believed benefits for unemployed people were “too high and discourage work”, compared to 62 per cent in 2011.

Researchers found around half (47 per cent) of people in 2012 believed cutting benefits “would damage too many people’s lives”, up 5 per cent from the previous year, while 34 per cent supported more spending on benefits, even if it means higher taxes, up from 28 per cent in 2011.

NatCen said its survey revealed that hard times may also be softening people’s views about unemployment.

Family and sexual attitudes

Other findings show how views towards marriage and gender have also changed.

Between 1983 and 2010 the marriage rate in England and Wales more than halved, from 52 to 22 (among men) and 42 to 20 (among women).

This partly reflects an increasing tendency for couples to cohabit, either as a precursor to, or instead of, marriage.

In 1984 almost half of Brits (49 per cent) thought a man’s job was to earn money and a woman’s job was to look after the home and family; in 2012 that had fallen to just 13 per cent.

In 1983 28 per cent of Brits thought premarital sex was wrong compared to 11 per cent in 2012.

Views towards homosexuality

In 1983 50 per cent thought homosexuality was “always wrong”. This increased to 64 per cent in 1987 and is just 22 per cent in 2012.

Although tolerance of homosexuality has grown among all religious groups, it has grown most among those who are not religious.

As a result, the gap between the religious and non-religious on this issue is now far wider than in the past.

In 1983, Anglicans were 1.2 times more likely than the non-religious to think homosexuality was wrong; now they are 2.6 times more likely.

Religious attitudes in general have also changed. In 1983 just 31 per cent admitted to having no religion. In 2012 this rose to 48 per cent.

This increase is almost entirely mirrored by a decline in the proportion of people who describe themselves as belonging to the Church of England, down from 40 per cent in 1983 to 20 per cent now.

The proportion of people who describe themselves as Catholic or as belonging to another christian religion has changed little over the period, while the proportion who belong to non-Christian religions has grown, from 2 per cent in 1983 to 6 per cent now. 48 per cent have no religion, compared with 31 per cent in 1983

Scottish independence

Finally, support for Scottish independence has fallen from 30 per cent in 2006 to 23 per cent now.

Only around half of those with a strong Scottish identity back independence.

However, around three-fifths feel that the Scottish parliament should be running taxes and welfare north of the border.