- Findings make it clear that belief in a small state is now a minority sport in the UK
- Areas with the most support for government guaranteeing minimum levels of provision and quality are early years education and care, social care and public transport
Britons think the state should play a bigger role in delivering a social contract, according to new polling from the Fairness Foundation. The nationally representative UK survey, conducted by Opinium in late March, asked respondents whether, in principle, they think it is the role of government to provide the funding to ensure that everyone can access a minimum level of provision in seven areas: social care, early years education and care, public transport, social or rented housing provision, lifelong learning, a minimum income (regardless of ability to work) and income protection, i.e. unemployment support (paying people who lose their job a percentage of their income to help them get back to work).
The survey found that more than four in five people agreed that government should, in principle, fund minimum levels of provision for social care (84%), early years (84%) and public transport (81%); more than seven in ten agreed in relation to social or rented housing (77%) and lifelong learning (71%), while more than three in five agreed in relation to minimum income (64%) and income protection (62%).
This polling helps to fill the gap in what we know about public attitudes to the role of the state in providing a social contract, looking past the usual debates about wages, the cost of living and the NHS.
Will Snell, chief executive of the Fairness Foundation, said:
“We found very high levels of support for an interventionist state that invests more in its citizens, so that they in turn can contribute more to our society and economy. This support held across people of different generations, regions, genders, ethnicities, and levels of income, with surprisingly small differences between supporters of the main political parties.
“The polling showed that belief in a small state is now a minority sport in the UK. People know that the social contract - the unwritten expectation that we contribute to society, and society will support us in return - is under severe strain in the UK. It’s no longer safe to expect that a hard day’s work will be rewarded with a decent wage and being able to afford basic necessities such as housing, food and energy. And the outlook is even worse if you can’t work and depend on benefits.
“In principle, people want government to invest and regulate so that everyone can access minimum levels of provision in a range of areas, from the early years to social care, from social or rented housing to public transport. We need to reimagine the social contract for the 21st century.”
Other key findings from the polling include:
- In most cases, there is little variation between generations. The area with the biggest generational differences in support is a guaranteed minimum income regardless of ability to work, which 73% of 18-to-34-year-olds think the government should in principle provide, compared to 54% of those over 65. On the other hand, the area with the smallest generational gap in support is a guaranteed minimum level and quality of social care provision (84% compared to 86% support, respectively).
- While there are predictable variations across parties, on average there is still 68% agreement among both current and 2019 Conservative voters that it is the role of government to fund the seven listed areas, compared to 85% of current/2019 Labour voters, 76% of current/2019 Lib Dem voters and 75% of the general public. The areas with the most support from different groups of 2019 voters are early years among Labour voters (91%), early years and social care among Tory voters (81%), and social care among Lib Dem voters (95%). The areas with the least support from different groups of 2019 voters are income protection among Labour voters (74%) and Lib Dem voters (55%), and minimum income among Tory voters (49%).
- 69% of 2019 Tory voters also support the principle of government funding to provide a minimum level and quality of social or rented housing provision, and there is higher support than opposition among this group for both a minimum income (49% support, 34% opposition) and a more generous income protection system (51% support, 25% opposition).
- When we asked respondents to prioritise which of the seven listed areas should receive government funding, by ranking them from one (fully funded) to seven (not funded at all) on the assumption that only half of the necessary funding to support all seven was available, the highest-ranked areas (looking at average rankings) were social care and early years, while social and rented housing was the third most prioritised area.
- Looking at variations in these ranking across groups, Labour voters put minimum income and income protection above public transport and lifelong learning, while Conservative voters do not. People who are unemployed consider a minimum income to be the highest priority, and people from ethnic minority backgrounds rank income protection and minimum income above social and rented housing.
- The full report is available online at roleofgov.uk.
- The Fairness Foundation aims to change the terms of the public debate about fairness, to promote the benefits of a fair society, and to inspire citizens, organisations and decision-makers to create a fairer society. For more information see https://fairnessfoundation.com.
- Fieldwork was carried out by Opinium between 22 and 23 March, with a nationally representative sample of 2,052 UK adults, weighted to nationally representative criteria and various political criteria.
- Demographic breakdowns are available on the report webpage for each question, covering voting intention, 2019 general election vote, 2016 referendum vote, gender, age, region, ethnicity, level of education, social grade, household income, and working status. The full dataset is at https://fairnessfoundation.sharepoint.com/:x:/g/EUcHNkUScAhLsyWAM7lRoIwBtaMw-EXTRsNrOyit3Iwrlw?e=PocoI8.
- Interviews with Will Snell, chief executive of the Fairness Foundation, are available.
- Please contact Will Snell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 07928 858882.