Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

A Change of Heart in Britain

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

A Change of Heart in Britain

Article excerpt

THE SOURCE: "A Quiet Revolution" by Peter Kellner, in Prospect, March 2012.

Britain is one of the bastions of the modern welfare state; decades ago, its people became comfortable with the idea that the government was responsible for funding social programs to reduce income inequality. A study conducted in January by the market research firm YouGov, however, indicates a decisive change of heart.

The survey's strongest message: The British public wants deep cuts in social spending. After more than a year under the controversial austerity policies of Conservative prime minister David Cameron, 74 percent of respondents said they thought that the government doles out too much in health, welfare, pension, and other benefits, reports Peter Kellner, the president of YouGov. The sentiment is strikingly pervasive. Almost 60 percent of members of the center-left Labor Party who were surveyed agreed, as did a majority of those who made less than [pounds sterling]10,000 per year (about $16,125).

Perhaps more surprising is that Britain's current financial woes were not the main impetus for the evident change in public opinion. Rather, it was the perception that tax and welfare regimes are fundamentally unfair, with benefits going to the wrong people for the wrong reasons.

How did British social spending become such a source of contention? Support for the welfare state has been waning since the mid-1980s. Spending is much greater now than it was a generation or two ago. …

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