Did the pandemic drive a want for extra beneficiant welfare? New analysis suggests not

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The COVID-19 pandemic has been probably the most critical public well being disaster in a century. It resulted in governments taking unprecedented powers to control individuals’s social lives, and endeavor substantial fiscal interventions to cushion the impression on individuals’s funds and the broader economic system. Some have recommended that the expertise could be so profound that the pandemic would show a “turning level in historical past” that heralded a big change in the best way societies are organised and economies are run.

Nonetheless, implementing a profound change in public coverage is more likely to be tough until it chimes with public opinion. So, has there been a big change in public attitudes within the wake of the pandemic? We’ve pursued this query in Britain by analysing three surveys that had been carried out between summer season 2020 and summer season 2021, every of which replicated questions that had been administered earlier than the pandemic on the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey, a top quality random likelihood survey carried out yearly since 1983.

One key query we tackle is whether or not the pandemic modified attitudes in the direction of inequality, welfare and the position of the state. The illness notably affected these residing in disadvantaged communities and stimulated debate about inequality in British society. The general public well being measures threatened the livelihoods of these in hitherto safe jobs, and thus might have modified their attitudes in the direction of welfare provision. In the meantime, the growth of public spending might have led some to reassess how huge the state must be in future.

In observe, there are solely restricted indicators that any of this has occurred. True, there was a modest improve in an already comparatively widespread degree of concern about inequality. On common in our three surveys carried out in the course of the pandemic, 64% agreed that “extraordinary individuals don’t get their fair proportion of the nation’s wealth” – up from 60% throughout the three surveys carried out between 2017 and 2019. On the similar time, two-thirds (66%) agreed that “there’s one regulation for the wealthy and one for the poor” – up from 58% between 2017 and 2019.

Nonetheless, the expertise of the pandemic didn’t essentially stimulate a larger willingness to take motion on inequality. At 43%, the proportion who agreed that the “authorities ought to redistribute earnings from the higher off to the much less nicely off” was little completely different from the 42% who expressed that view within the years earlier than the pandemic.

There was definitely no dramatic change in attitudes in the direction of welfare. For instance, in our pandemic surveys 44% disagreed that “many individuals who get social safety don’t actually deserve any assist”, little completely different from the 42% who did so beforehand. Equally, 40% disagreed that “most individuals on the dole are fiddling in a method or one other” – a lot the identical because the 39% who did so earlier than the pandemic.

Lengthy-term shift

Nonetheless, though public attitudes in the direction of welfare might not have shifted a lot in the course of the pandemic, they’re nonetheless very completely different now from these in proof a decade earlier. Between 2002 and 2012, simply 29% disagreed that many social safety recipients will not be deserving of assist, whereas solely 27% disagreed that most individuals on the dole are fiddling. After an period when most individuals had been comparatively unsympathetic in the direction of welfare advantages, the general public temper had already develop into rather more supportive nicely earlier than the pandemic set in.

A lot the identical is true of attitudes in the direction of taxation and spending. Following the monetary crash of 2007-8, on common simply 35% mentioned that the federal government ought to “improve taxes and spend extra on well being, training and social advantages”. Nonetheless, the general public had already reacted towards the curbs in public spending initiated by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition of 2010-15. By 2017-19 the proportion who thought taxes and spending ought to improve had reached 57%.

Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson standing at podiums giving a press briefing.
Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson give a briefing in the course of the top of the pandemic.
Alamy

That determine fell considerably in the course of the pandemic – to 51%. However the swing could be considered modest in contrast with the dimensions of public spending in the course of the pandemic – and certainly is more likely to be in place for a while but. In any occasion, the marked improve in public spending that occurred in the course of the pandemic was accompanied by a public temper that was already on the lookout for some growth within the position of the state.

The pandemic reveals little signal of being a “turning level” in public opinion. Relatively, it’s higher considered barometer of current social and political attitudes in Britain. The inequality of the pandemic stimulated debate as a result of many had been already involved about inequality. Elevated welfare provision mirrored a extra sympathetic public temper that was already in place. In the meantime, the general public had been already looking for extra authorities spending on public companies.

Relatively than having to reply to a brand new public temper, the problem going through coverage makers within the post-pandemic period will likely be to determine how finest to reply to a fairly completely different public temper that has already been in place for a while.



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