Lib Dem attitudes to poverty and welfare: 3 interesting findings from today’s Joseph Rowntree Foundation report

Three interesting findings from today’s report for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) — Public attitudes to poverty and welfare 1983-2011 — carried out by NatCen Social Research, exploring public attitudes to poverty and welfare over the past three decades.

1) Interestingly… Lib Dem supporters are less likely than Labour supporters to believe that people live in need because of laziness or a lack of willpower.

nat cen jrf laziness

… the individualistic viewpoint, that people live in need because of laziness or a lack of willpower, gained favour among supporters of all three main political parties between 1994 and 2003, a period which covered much of the Labour Party’s first two terms in office. However, whilst by 2010, this belief among Conservative and Liberal Democrat supporters had fallen back to the levels measured in 1986, among Labour supporters the increase in this view has been sustained (13% held this view in 1986 compared with 22% in 2010).

2) Interestingly… there seems to have been a sharp up-tick in Lib Dem supporters supporting increased spending on welfare benefits since the Coalition began — a finding at odds with the common perception that the party’s supporters must now be more ‘right-leaning’ since 2010.

nat cen jrf spending

we see that Labour Party supporters have always been the most likely to agree that the government should spend more on welfare benefits for the poor, but that their support for this proposition has declined more than any other group over time. In 1987, 73% of Labour Party supporters agreed that the government should spend more on welfare benefits for the poor, compared with 36% now (a decline of 36 percentage points). The support of Conservative Party and Liberal Democrat supporters for extra spending in this area declined by 21 and 28 percentage points respectively during the same period. As show in Figure 9, this decline occurred throughout both the Conservative and Labour terms in office, though we cannot yet be confident that it is continuing into the Coalition term.

3) Interestingly… the proportion of Lib Dems agreeing welfare recipients do not deserve help has fallen since the formation of the Coalition.

nat cen jrf deserve help

Figure 5 reveals that, nevertheless, the attitudes of supporters of different political parties have behaved in far from consistent ways. Among Labour supporters, the proportion holding a negative view increased by 10 percentage points between 1987 and 2011 (and by 14 percentage points when it had reached its high point in 2005), with the bulk of this increase occurring during the period in which Labour were in power. This endorses the view, reported elsewhere, that during this period, the views of Labour supporters followed the policy directions adopted by their party (Curtice, 2010). Over the entire period, the proportion of supporters of other parties who agreed with this view, despite some fluctuations, remained relatively stable.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • Peter Watson 14th May '13 - 7:13pm

    I am not convinced that the results can be interpreted in terms of “the common perception that the party’s supporters must now be more ‘right-leaning’ since 2010”. It is not clear when the 2011 survey took place, and only 7% of respondents identified themselves as Liberal Democrats (but not necessarily supporters of the coalition). Also, using Figure 4.9 to challenge the perception of a recent move to the right means it could equally be used to demonstrate an earlier leap to the right under Nick Clegg!

    However, at first glance it is striking from the graphs above (and others in the report) that historically, in terms of attitudes to poverty and welfare, Lib Dems are much closer to Labour than to our Conservative coalition partners. The graphs also seem to support the oft-quoted view that all of the parties have moved towards the right on these issues.

  • Its not particularly useful to lump all benefits together in these questions. People think some benefits should be increased, and some should be decreased.

    For example, many people think in-work benefits should be reduced – by companies paying a fair wage instead.
    And likewise, that housing benefit should be reduced by building nice homes for people instead.

    Joe – agreed. The general population doesn’t have in-depth knowledge/understanding of all benefits. This survey perhaps shows that LibDems are better informed.

  • from the Natcen report , almost everyone agrees that “The creation of the welfare state is one of Britain’s proudest achievements” (85%)

    and most people agree that “Cutting welfare benefits would damage too many people’s lives” (77%)
    – this is why the nasty party’s welfare cuts didn’t do them any favours in the polls.

  • Only 2 out of 10 people believe that poverty is caused by laziness. This again underlines why punishing welfare cuts are not well received.

    Even among Conservative voters, its less than 3 out of 10 people.

  • Tony Faithfull-Wrigh 15th May '13 - 12:45am

    I still cannot believe we as a Party have have gone along with Tory Welfare Cuts albeit with some amendments. No Liberal Democrat should support such draconian measures that have caused such pain and stress to the people in our society who need help the most. Not since Margaret Thatcher have we seen such an upsurge in anger and resentment against the Government.

  • Anthony Hawkes 15th May '13 - 7:52am

    I stand in awe of the person who managed to take a banking crisis which tanked the country and change public perceptions to place the blame on welfare. Whatever you think about the immorality of it, the plan certainly worked.

  • Er. these surveys illustrate the views of Liberal Democrats . This bears no relation to behaviour of Lib Dem members of the coalition

  • Paul in twickenham 15th May '13 - 9:26am

    @Joe Otten – Surely the function of government is to define fiscal policy. I would not seek to dispute the statement that there is a bloated welfare state – indeed a client state that grew explosively under Labour – that needs to be rolled back. The political choice is in setting the level of cuts versus tax increases.

    The coalition is choosing to prefer cuts over tax increases. That is a choice. It is not – as you suggest – an inescapable necessity. One can construct a perfectly sound argument for this policy (although I wouldn’t necessarily agree with it) but it is a policy decision, not a matter of absolute arithmetic.

  • @ Anthony Hawkes

    Yes an astonishing feat. In the past governments have been condemned when unemployment is high – this has been turned on its head by the Coalition. Now it is the fault of the unemployed.

    If the originator of that devious scheme could turn their minds to actually getting the nation out its difficulties – we would soon be a prosperous nation.

  • Gareth Wilson 15th May '13 - 10:07am

    Its truely impressive that the tories combined with the right wing press have got the poor fighting the jobless and sick. Its classic divide and conquer by the upper classes. How can we fight this perception? I’m stumped..

  • Gareth Wilson 15th May '13 - 10:07am

    Its truly impressive that the tories combined with the right wing press have got the poor fighting the jobless and sick. Its classic divide and conquer by the upper classes. How can we fight this perception? I’m stumped..

  • Well I am afraid that the Lib/Dems have been branded with all of the Coalition policies. Since neither party wants a General Election at this time and there is no reason to believe that UKIP’s popularity is going to subside before the next GE [unless Cameron is forced to step down and a leader to Farage’s liking is appointed – leading to a deal/merger] it would be worth breaking the Coalition with the Lib/Dems simply supporting new legislation on a policy by policy basis, which I thought would be the best arrangement from the outset – given the significant difference in the then supporter base.

    This would have the advantage of distinguishing the differences between the two parties rather than both being branded the same.

  • Believing that people live in need because of laziness or a lack of willpower is NOT an individualistic viewpoint – its an elitist viewpoint. In a time of austerity, when the 1% have increased their wealth and influence, the elites need to find justifications for their pre-eminent position (because not all of them are sociopaths) and encouraging prejudice against society’s weakest and most vulnerable is the simplest way to do it.

    As for the membership displaying increases in concern and compassion, this is a gratifying surprise.

  • This doesn’t surprise me. Lib Dems tend to like evidence based policies and are less prone to simplistic views of the world, But again it kind of shows a big disconnect between the party ‘s supporters and its leadership.
    I don’t like what’s being done to the disabled and the poor, because the the evidence that the policies work is very thin and thus they look reactionary and immoral. But again you’re in coalition with a Party that distorts things to suite its agenda (Gove and the Mr Men being another fine example of Tory bobbins) . Also liberals are up against an opposition that is happy to jump bandwagons.

  • Chris rRandall 15th May '13 - 1:09pm

    Isn’t it a shame that people so readily believe the government rhetoric and are willing to allow so many people to be hurt for trouble caused by so few. I can say I don’t like what’s being done in the name of paying off the deficit and it will come back and haunt all parties eventually. Probably ours more then most.

  • Leekliberal 15th May '13 - 6:18pm

    This report doesn’t surprise me at all. It reflects the fundamental generosity of spirit of Liberal people. However while I in no way blame any of those on benefits for their situation I also am very keen that those who are able to work should be properly supported so that they are able achieve employment for their own dignity and happiness apart from any financial savings. I certainly don’t think we are doing this effectively at present as exampled by the French private company ATOS who I feel are damaging a good idea by their crass handling of the disabled.

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