Revealed: 8 things the public thinks about UK poverty

18th Jun 2014

The latest British Social Attitudes survey shows how important the public think it is to tackle poverty, says Helen Barnard.

This week we learned that the majority of the public believes that poverty is real, rising and that a democratic society should do something about it. They think that work is vital but not the whole answer, and that some groups need additional help from the state.

The 31st British Social Attitudes Survey was published this week. The last before the Scottish Referendum and next year’s UK election, it gives plenty of food for thought for politicians on both sides of the border. Here are eight of the key findings on poverty:

  1. Over 60% of the British public believe there is poverty in the UK and that it has risen in the last 10 years.
  2. 58% of people think it is extremely important that a democracy protects its citizens against poverty. That is considered more important than media freedom or political parties offering clear alternatives to one another.
  3. Benefits are believed to be an important part of addressing poverty – for some groups – and are not seen as generous.
  4. 56% of people do not think unemployment benefits are enough to live on when told how much they are (although this is down from 68% in 2000). JRF’s research  shows that benefits for single unemployed people cover only 40% of what the public think is a minimum adequate income – and they have been losing value over time.
  5. For unemployed people work is seen as the priority:
    • 49% think that unemployment benefits should be cut.
    • Over half think that unemployment benefits are too high and discourage work.
    • Over half think that most unemployed people could find a job if they really wanted to. 
  6. But this survey and other research suggest that people also think that low-paid work doesn’t pay enough to live on. The survey report authors suggest this is why people believe that benefits which are too low to live on can still discourage work.
  7. For some groups, there is strong support for increases in benefits:
    •  Carers (73%)
    • Low-income working parents (59%)
    • Disabled people (54%).
  8. And more people say now than in 2011 that the Government should increase spending on welfare benefits for the poor, even if it means higher taxes (up from 28% to 36%).

I have just spent two days in a poverty-themed ‘Dragon’s Den’, debating which policies should make it into the JRF’s UK Anti-Poverty Strategy next year. Two recurring themes were the need to reduce living costs and improve the quality of work. Another was the importance of public attitudes. Hopefully this year’s survey suggests we are going in the right direction.

Read more about our work on poverty.