Snapshot of British society in 2013: More tolerance, less trust for politicians and royals are getting more popular

We have lost faith in politicians and banks, but are far more willing to accept gay relationships, according to the Social Attitudes survey, which also reveals a renewed respect for the Royal Family, and the jobless

Cahal Milmo
Tuesday 10 September 2013 10:24 BST

Britons have a stronger belief in politics than 30 years ago but trust politicians less. They also sympathise more with the unemployed but struggle to support spending more on benefits. And they are vastly more accepting of gay relationships at the same time as falling back in love with Royal Family.

Such are the contrasting, if not quite contradictory, findings of a snapshot of how British social attitudes have shifted in recent decades amid the stresses of globalisation, liberalisation and the yo-yoing of the economy.

The study shows Britons have grown more tolerant of differences in lifestyle and still value the “collectivist” aspects of British society such as a strong safety net for the disadvantaged.

However they take an increasingly dim view of some of the nation’s institutions. Trust in banks has plummeted from 90 per cent in the 1980s to a current level 19 per cent.

Politicians have also crashed in the popularity stakes with 93 per cent now saying they have little or no faith in a elected representative to tell the truth if in a tight corner. But people are more interested in politics than they were in the 1980s, and are more likely to believe that they can influence government.

There has been a softening in attitudes towards the jobless with nearly half – 47 per cent – now believing that cutting benefits would damage too many lives. But empathy is limited – just 34 per cent now support increased benefit spending compared to 55 per cent in 1987.

Alison Park, head of society for NatCen Social Research, which has carried out the Social Attitudes survey for the last 30 years, said: “The nation has become much more cynical about the welfare state. But austerity seems to be beginning to soften the public mood.” The study suggests a rise in “live and let live” attitudes, with opposition to same-sex relationships dropping from 64 per cent in 1987 to 22 per cent in 2012. Support for the Royal Family has risen from 27 per cent in 2006 to 45 per cent.

How opinion has changed

Politics: are we interested?

In 2012, 36% of respondents to the survey had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of interest in politics. In 1987, that figure stood at just 29%.

Do we have a say in what government does in our name?

The number of people who said they had “no say” in what government does fell from 71% in 1986 to 59% in 2012.

The royals on the rise again

In 1983, 65% said it was “very important” for Britain to continue to have a monarchy. In 1994 the figure was 32%, by 2006 it was 27% and in 2012 it was 45%.

We're more tolerant of same-sex relationships...

In 1987, 64% of people believed that same-sex relationships were “always wrong”. The figure is now 22%.

...and of sex before marriage

In 2012, 65% thought there was nothing wrong at all with sex outside marriage, compared with 42% in 1983.

...while tying the knot of is of little import when it comes to children

In 1989, 70% agreed people who want children ought to get married, compared with 42% now.

Republicanism is in the minority

Only 4% thought keeping the monarch was “not at all important”, while 5% would like to see the monarchy abolished.

Do we understand Westminster?

Repondents saying that the sometimes they “cannot really understand what is going on” in politics fell from 69% in 1986 to 57% in 2012.

And how many of us actually vote?

In 1986, 76% of people felt they had a duty to vote. The figure fell to 56% in 2008. In 2011, 62% said “it is our duty to vote”.

Do we trust politicians?

18% now trust government to place the needs of the nation above the interests of their own political party “just about always” or “most of the time”, down from 38% in 1987.

Do we believe what MPs say?

Asked whether they trust politicians of any party in Britain to tell the truth when they are in a tight corner, 93% say “almost never” or “only some of the time”.

Who do we support?

In 1983, 87% said they supported one political party or another, compared with 76% now. 21% now say they support no particular party, up from 8% in 1983.

And do we trust our institutions?

Around 90% of the public viewed banks as well-run during the 1980s, but this has now fallen to 19%.

What about the media?

The phone-hacking scandal has clearly had an effect on public trust in the press, with 27% now believing it is well-run, compared with 53% in 1983.

The police do little better

Those with confidence in the running of the police has fallen from 77% to 65% over the same period.

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