We asked More in Common and Public First to include five questions in the April 2022 edition of their regular nationally representative online surveys, to help us to improve our understanding of public attitudes to fairness.
These surveys ‘segment’ the public into seven groups, as developed and described for More in Common’s 2020 report, Britain’s Choice. Our objectives were:
- To understand what proportion of the public supports each of the five fair necessities, and to what extent, and how this varies across various demographic groups (’segment’, gender, ethnicity, region, age, income level, voting intention and so on)
- To find out more about how people think about fairness in relation to linked but different concepts such as equality and meritocracy
- To discover what people think about how fair Britain is today, and to what extent they support interventions that might make Britain fairer
The survey was carried out in the week of 18-22 April 2022. The sample size was 3,140 adults aged 15-100 across Great Britain. The full data tables (including sample sizes for all breakdowns) are available here.
We asked five questions. Click on the toggles to expand each question.
- Everyone should have the freedom to live their lives with minimal interference from government
- Everyone should have the opportunity to get on in life, but unequal outcomes happen because some people take more advantage of opportunities than others
- Everyone should have equal opportunities in their life, but equal outcomes should not be guaranteed
- Inequalities should be completely eliminated so that everyone has roughly the same resources and living standards
- Completely eliminating inequality would be impossible – but it should be reduced
- We live in a broadly fair society
- We live in a broadly unfair society
- People’s life chances are unfairly influenced by the circumstances into which they are born
- People at the top have earned it, and people at the bottom have brought it upon themselves
- Everyone is treated with equal respect, no matter who they are or how much money they have
- The government does not do enough to ensure that everyone pays their fair share of tax
- The government does not do enough to ensure that everyone is able to meet their basic needs
- Everyone should have a decent chance to succeed in life, so we should remove the key barriers that prevent people from having equal opportunities
- Everyone’s hard work should be rewarded on the basis of their contribution to our society and economy
- Everyone should contribute to society by paying the taxes that they owe, and in return they should be supported by society when they need it
- Everyone should have their basic needs met so that no one lives in poverty, and everyone can play a constructive role in society
- Everyone should be treated according to need, enjoying equal respect and equal influence on decisions made in their name
- Everyone should enjoy a broadly similar standard of living, with much less of a divide between the haves and have-nots
- Guaranteeing all workers a living wage and a minimum number of working hours per week
- Making benefits more generous
- Controlling the cost of living by introducing or strengthening price caps on food and energy
- Building more social housing
- Reserving a minimum number of university places for people from disadvantaged backgrounds
- Taxing income from wealth (like property and investments) at the same rate as working people
- None of the above
- A political party whose core aim is about maximising equality: where the state intervenes to redistribute resources from the better-off to the less well-off
- A political party whose core aim is about minimising state intervention: where the state intervenes only to uphold the rule of law, security and fundamental rights, and leaves everything else to the free market
- A political party who core aim is to strike a balance: reducing inequality only as much as is needed to give everyone the same opportunities
ONE // ATTITUDES TO EQUALITY
What kind of society do people want to live in - a society in which everyone is left to their own devices, a society of perfect equality, or something in between based around equal opportunities?
There were five options, with three variations on a society structured to provide equal opportunities (yellow, green and light blue). The answers, below, revealed a strong preference for equal opportunities over both equality, i.e. equal outcomes (purple), and a ‘small state’ (dark blue). Overall, 69.5% of respondents favoured equal opportunities over equality (12.5%) or a ‘small state’ (18%).
The map below shows how this preference for equal opportunities varied across different regions of Britain.
TWO // BRITAIN TODAY
To what extent do people think that British society today is fair?
Previous surveys have found a fairly consistent 70/30 split between those who believe that we live in an unfair or fair society, respectively. The results below broadly mirror this breakdown. A majority of respondents across most groups said that we live in a broadly unfair society, with lower levels of agreement among older and more conservative respondents.
The last five options were designed to test whether people believe that the five ‘fair necessities’ have been achieved in today’s society. The majority view (holding true for almost every group across every ‘necessity’) was that none of them have been achieved.
A particularly striking finding was the very low level of agreement with the statement that ‘people at the top have earned it, and people at the bottom have brought it upon themselves’. This goes against previous surveys that have found a widely held belief that we live in a meritocracy.
THREE // THE FAIR NECESSITIES
How much do the British public support the fair necessities?
Looking across all five ‘fair necessities’, the overall level of public support was 74%, with 35% in strong or very strong agreement, and 39% in agreement. Levels of disagreement were very low (under 10%), with 16.5% neutral.
Looking at each of the five ‘fair necessities’ in turn, every one of them enjoyed more than two-thirds support across the public as a whole:
- Fair opportunities: 76%
- Fair rewards: 71%
- Fair exchange: 78%
- Fair essentials: 76%
- Fair treatment: 69%
By contrast, public support for the idea of equality (which is not one of the ‘fair necessities’) was 62%.
None of the five ‘fair necessities’ was opposed by more than 10% of the public; in each case, the majority of those who were not actively in agreement were neutral (’neither agreeing nor disagreeing’). There was strong support for each of the five across most groups in society, including more conservative respondents in many cases.
The charts below provide detailed breakdowns by group for the five ‘fair necessities’ overall, for each of them in turn, and for the ‘control question’ about equality.
First, here’s a map showing how support for the ‘fair necessities’ varies across the regions of Britain.
What proportion of respondents supported each of the five ‘fair necessities’ (and the final ‘control question’ on equality)?
What was the average level of support for all five ‘fair necessities’?
This is a ‘control question’, as equality is not one of the fair necessities
FOUR // BUILDING A FAIRER SOCIETY
How much do people support some of the most commonly proposed policy solutions for building a fairer society?
We found strong support across most groups for a living wage and minimum hours, and steps to control the cost of living. There was moderate support for building more social housing and taxing income from wealth at the same rate as from work. However, support was much weaker for making benefits more generous and reforming university admissions processes.
There were predictable splits across groups, with support for these interventions strongest overall among more progressive respondents and weakest among more conservative respondents. However, there were also some surprising results, such as particularly strong support for a living wage and minimum hours among older respondents, and strong support for price caps across respondents of all political views.
FIVE // POLITICAL PREFERENCES
What kind of policy platform do people find most appealing when looking at political parties?
A hypothetical policy platform based around fairness attracted the most support across all groups (except some progressive respondents, who preferred a platform focused on equality). The preference for fairness extended to conservative respondents (who preferred it to a ‘small state’ party by a margin of more than two to one).
It is worth noting that ‘fairness’ in this context is defined quite robustly (as reducing inequality, but only as much as is needed to give everyone the same opportunities).
These findings show strong support for the reduction of inequality in the pursuit of fairness, clarifying ambiguous responses to question one (where several of the answers overlapped), with 83% of respondents in favour of reducing inequality in some form or another.
The map below shows how this preference for a ‘fairness’ platform varied across regions of Britain.