The latest from British Social Attitudes

Today sees the release of the annual British Social Attitudes series, and – for the first time – I have a chapter in it.  I make two arguments.  Firstly- and familiar to readers of this blog – I argue that attitudes to benefits are not as negative as they seem (as I blog about at The Conversation). Secondly, I look at whether people feel they are financially struggling (and whether other people are in poverty), how this has changed over time, and it’s link to benefit attitudes.  You can find the full chapter here.

However, the newest and most newsworthy findings come from a different chapter (great though it was to be involved in BSA, I didn’t have any control over the questions in my chapter as I wasn’t funding the module!).  The headline-grabbing findings come from the chapter by Rob Ford and Anthony Heath about immigration.  Partly I was intrigued – but not surprised – to see that nearly one-quarter of the public think that the *main* reason people migrate to the UK is to claim benefits (!).  But the table that’s closest to my interests (and which got the reporters interested, at least from the BBC) is about how long migrants should have to wait to be eligible for benefits:

Ford and Heath Table 5.8 (see text)

In other words, very few people think that EU migrants should have instant access to benefits, and only 37% think they should have access within one year – but equally, an overwhelming majority think they should have access within five years.  I’ve written about where ‘reciprocity’ fits into this using previous BSA questions on the blog here, and my interpretation still stands with the new question (much as wider attitudes to immigration are complex, and well-dissected in Ford & Heath’s typically clear chapter).

About Ben Baumberg Geiger

I am a Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Social Policy at the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research (SSPSSR) at the University of Kent. I also helped set up the collaborative research blog Inequalities, where (after a long break) I am again blogging about inequality-related policy & research. I have a wide range of research interests, at the moment focusing on the role of social science, disability, inequality, deservingness, and the future of the benefits system, and I co-lead the Welfare at a (Social) Distance project (on the benefits system during Covid-19). You can find out more about me at
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4 Responses to The latest from British Social Attitudes

  1. Ben Baumberg says:

    I forgot to note that there’s another version of the table above that looks at people’s attitudes to immigrants from OUTSIDE the EU – basically they’re similar, but slightly stricter. See the full Ford + Heath chapter for details.

  2. Charlotte says:

    You might be interested in a chapter in my dissertation that tries to model the distribution of “reciprocity” and altruism in the population (heavily using findings from behavioral econ, who knew I would end up in that side of the field!) . I find that moral values (on death penalty, abortion…etc..) are very predictive of one’s concerns about reciprocity and link it to moral psychology (again who knew…etc…). Social status also seems to matter. Anyhow I ll send it your way when done. One thing though: you are a HUGE optimist in your chapter. The UK is now in a US situation split 50/50 over benefits, then it becomes half/empty half full type of discussion…look at the situation in the US, I think being split is bad! in all other countries support is much more overwhelming, 50 / 50 is NOT a good thing 🙂 despite a recession and cuts in benefits, support is flat when it SHOULD have been increasing. so I am going to totally disagree with you, public opinion-wise there is still a major backlash in the UK.

    • Ben Baumberg says:

      Haha – always good to have a debate with you about this kind thing Cha! It’s a difficult balance to get. Clearly there is a lot of resentment about benefit claimants in the UK, and I’ve elsewhere written about how we need to change the structures of the benefits system in order to change the debate in the long-term – there’s no magic wand that can be waved to get popular, progressive policies on benefits in the UK. So in that sense, you’re clearly right.

      On the other hand, the point I wanted to make is that public attitudes have not swung so vehemently against the benefits system that no-one has any support for it any more. If everybody (somehow) thought attitudes were universally progressive, I’d be saying what you’re saying. As it stands, I think everybody goes overboard on how negative attitudes are – they’re negative, but not as negative as people think (which is the title of my blog post on The Conversation).

      Anyhow, interested to see your chapter in your thesis (and indeed, the whole thing!) when it’s done 🙂

  3. Pingback: Further increases in public support for benefit claimants | Inequalities

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