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

by Stephen Tall on May 14, 2013

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 Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.