Welfare state dead in a generation, a quarter of British adults think

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As David Cameron defends his “moral mission” against Cardinal Nichols accusations of welfare cuts being neither “moral nor fair”, new research reveals that a quarter (24%) of British adults think the welfare state will not exist “in any form we would recognise it today” within 30 years. Asked to think about things like things like “pensions, the NHS, tax credits, child benefit, disability living allowance and unemployment benefit”, nearly six in ten (57%) British adults say that the welfare state is destined to shrink or disappear over coming years.


The research is to mark the publication of a new collection from Theos, the religion and society think tank, entitled The Future of Welfare. The volume, which asked contributors to consider the moral logic underpinning welfare, includes contributions from Iain Duncan Smith, Matthew Taylor, David Goodhart, Frank Field MP, Anna Rowlands and Shenaz Bunglawala, among others.


The new poll on public attitudes to welfare found that vast majority of British adults (87%) think that the welfare state is currently “facing severe problems”. Young people (aged 18-24) are marginally less anxious about the welfare state -‘only’ 75% thinking it is “facing severe problems”. By comparison, virtually everyone (94%) over 55 thinks it is “facing severe problems”.


People from lower social grades are also more pessimistic about the future of the welfare state than those in higher social grades: nearly a third (30%) of DEs think it will no longer be with us in any recognisable form in 30 years’ time compared with only 18% of ABs.


Not surprisingly, people in less wealthy areas are more pessimistic about the future of the welfare state. 71% of people in Wales, and 64% of people living in Scotland thinking it will shrink or disappear over the next 30 years compared with 38% in London and 57% in the South East.


Women are more pessimistic than men about the future of the welfare state, with only a quarter 25% thinking the welfare state will be with us in the same or larger form in a generation, compared with 38% of men.


Perhaps surprisingly, politicians were not the scapegoats for this bleak future. Although the most popular option (32%) for who is “mainly to blame” was politicians, a fifth (20%) blame mainly “UK benefit claimants, for falsely claiming for benefits”, 16% blame mainly “benefits tourists” from other countries and 15% blame mainly “the European Union, for opening up borders”.


Young people, those aged between 18 and 34, are less likely than those aged 55+ to blame politicians (26% vs. 37%). People in lower social grades are more likely than those from higher social grades to hold “benefits tourists” from other countries (21% of DEs do so, compared to just 11% of ABs) and “the European Union, for opening up borders” (20% vs. 11%) to blame. responsible. Overall, the problem seems so big that no one single party or group is to blame.


Perhaps the biggest problem, however, is that we don’t know what to do about it or even what welfare is for. There is confusion about who should be able to access benefits. On the one hand, 68% of people think that “welfare benefits should be a safety net for only the poorest and neediest in society”, while around two thirds agree that “you should only benefit from state services if you have been paying into the pot which funds them, even if you really need them”.


This research shows that we need to think carefully not only about specific welfare policies but also about the bigger picture, about what welfare is for”, commented Elizabeth Oldfield, Director of Theos.


“This collection, The Future of Welfare, brings together some of the country’s leading thinkers to do just that. Politicians and academics from across the political spectrum have used the volume to stand back, think morally and ask where are we going, and how might we get there.


“Contributors from a range of political perspectives agree that we do have a moral responsibility for each other, not just ourselves. However, there was also general agreement that people need to be able to connect what they put in to what they get out, and that this has been lost over recent decades. This is the key task facing politicians.”




1.       Theos is a religion and society think tank which offers research and commentary on issues of religion, ethics and society. It was launched in November 2006. Hard copies of the volume can be ordered via the website or downloaded as a free pdf from theosthinktank.co.uk/research


2.       Research was conducted by ComRes. ComRes interviewed 2,027 GB adults aged 18+ between the 6th and8th December 2013. Data were weighted to be representative of all GB adults aged 18+. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Data can be accessed at theosthinktank.co.uk/research/polling or www.comres.co.uk  ‘Destined to shrink or disappear over the coming years’ calculated as those who select ‘Yes, but in a smaller form’ and ‘No, not in any form we would recognise today’ in answer to the question ‘We want to ask you a few questions about the Welfare State, thinking about things like pensions, the NHS, tax credits, child benefit, disability living allowance and unemployment benefit. The welfare state is nearly 70 years old. Do you think it will still be here in 30 years’ time?’ Answers provided on a scale from ‘Yes, in a bigger form than it  is today, Yes, in more or less its current form, Yes but in a smaller form, No, not in any form we would recognise today, and Don’t know’

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