The debate regarding public attitudes to welfare spending has missed an important element: how attitudes differ between generations and whether this looks set to continue. The apparent general growth in hostility towards welfare has been widely reported, but the generational aspect of this phenomenon has been not yet been properly explored, analysed and debated.
This research project is prompted by new analysis which shows that that while all generations have begun to exhibit less generous attitudes towards the redistribution of wealth through the tax and benefit system, there is a clear order to this, with older cohorts more supportive of redistribution than younger ones.
Perhaps most significantly of all, the data suggest that attitudes appear to remain relatively consistent within cohorts over time. There is little sign of the so-called ‘life cycle effect’ - a phenomenon whereby our attitudes gradually become more like those of our parents as we grow older - a commonly held assumption in policy circles.
In light of this evidence, it is possible that we are now witnessing a generational shift in attitudes towards the welfare state, with far-reaching implications. Should this generational shift in attitudes prove consistent beyond redistribution to other areas of social insurance, it poses some fundamental questions for policy makers.
Demos is working with Ipsos MORI to explore these questions through a project that combines new secondary analysis to verify this hypothesis, qualitative research and engagement with policy makers. The final report of our findings will be published in summer 2013.
This project is being funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
For further information about this project, contact Duncan O’Leary.