What do the British really think about society?

A breakdown of results of the British Social Attitudes Survey

The British Social Attitudes Survey, carried out by the National Centre for Social Research, was published today. Much of the press coverage points to an apparent duality in the results: for the first time in 20 years, a majority of people identify themselves as Conservatives, yet the public is more tolerant and socially liberal.

Here is a breakdown of the most interesting findings:

A nation of Conservatives?

Thirty-two per cent of people identified themselves as Conservative, while 27 per cent identified with Labour. This reverses the findings of the survey a year earlier, when 25 per cent identified as Conservative and 34 per cent with Labour. This is the first time the Tories have been in the lead since the 1989 survey.

Public spending

The change is certainly reflected in opinions on public spending: 39 per cent of people supported increased taxes and spending on health and education -- the lowest level since 1984, and down from 63 per cent in 2002. Just 38 per cent thought that the government should redistribute income from the wealthy to the poor, down from 51 per cent in 1994.

The electorate's views appear to have been shaped by the centrist legacy of New Labour, with the largest majority -- 50 per cent -- believing that spending and taxation levels should stay as they are. A decade of Labour government has, paradoxically, pushed public opinion to the right.

Political disillusionment

The widespread disillusionment with the political system was reflected in the survey. Fifty-six per cent of those questioned thought it was "everyone's duty to vote", down from 68 per cent in 1991. Among the under-35s, the number fell further to 41 per cent.

Thirty-two per cent of people said they had "not much interest" or "no interest" in politics, while 18 per cent said that it is not really worth voting (up from 12 per cent in 2005).

Social attitudes

Thirty-six per cent of people thought homosexual acts were "always or mostly wrong", down from 62 per cent in 1983. A larger proportion of people -- 39 per cent -- felt it was "not wrong at all". This represents a huge leap, up from just 14 per cent in 1989.

There was also evidence that attitudes to the family are relaxing. Forty-five per cent said it made "no difference" whether a child's parents were married or just living together, up from 38 per cent in 1998. Thirty-eight per cent of Britons still disapprove of mothers working full-time when they have young children. This changes when children reach school age; 52 per cent think a lone mother with a school-aged child has a "special duty" to work to support her child, up from 44 per cent in 1998.

Drugs and cigarettes

There was evidence here that government policy has had some effect. Views on cannabis have hardened, probably as a result of raised awareness of its risks: 58 per cent felt it should be illegal, compared with just 46 per cent in 2001.

Support for the smoking ban has also grown, despite fears of a backlash. In Scotland, where the measure was first introduced, its popularity has doubled since 2004, when it stood at 25 per cent. Fifty-three per cent now support it.


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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Stability is essential to solve the pension problem

The new chancellor must ensure we have a period of stability for pension policymaking in order for everyone to acclimatise to a new era of personal responsibility in retirement, says 

There was a time when retirement seemed to take care of itself. It was normal to work, retire and then receive the state pension plus a company final salary pension, often a fairly generous figure, which also paid out to a spouse or partner on death.

That normality simply doesn’t exist for most people in 2016. There is much less certainty on what retirement looks like. The genesis of these experiences also starts much earlier. As final salary schemes fall out of favour, the UK is reaching a tipping point where savings in ‘defined contribution’ pension schemes become the most prevalent form of traditional retirement saving.

Saving for a ‘pension’ can mean a multitude of different things and the way your savings are organised can make a big difference to whether or not you are able to do what you planned in your later life – and also how your money is treated once you die.

George Osborne established a place for himself in the canon of personal savings policy through the introduction of ‘freedom and choice’ in pensions in 2015. This changed the rules dramatically, and gave pension income a level of public interest it had never seen before. Effectively the policymakers changed the rules, left the ring and took the ropes with them as we entered a new era of personal responsibility in retirement.

But what difference has that made? Have people changed their plans as a result, and what does 'normal' for retirement income look like now?

Old Mutual Wealth has just released. with YouGov, its third detailed survey of how people in the UK are planning their income needs in retirement. What is becoming clear is that 'normal' looks nothing like it did before. People have adjusted and are operating according to a new normal.

In the new normal, people are reliant on multiple sources of income in retirement, including actively using their home, as more people anticipate downsizing to provide some income. 24 per cent of future retirees have said they would consider releasing value from their home in one way or another.

In the new normal, working beyond your state pension age is no longer seen as drudgery. With increasing longevity, the appeal of keeping busy with work has grown. Almost one-third of future retirees are expecting work to provide some of their income in retirement, with just under half suggesting one of the reasons for doing so would be to maintain social interaction.

The new normal means less binary decision-making. Each choice an individual makes along the way becomes critical, and the answers themselves are less obvious. How do you best invest your savings? Where is the best place for a rainy day fund? How do you want to take income in the future and what happens to your assets when you die?

 An abundance of choices to provide answers to the above questions is good, but too much choice can paralyse decision-making. The new normal requires a plan earlier in life.

All the while, policymakers have continued to give people plenty of things to think about. In the past 12 months alone, the previous chancellor deliberated over whether – and how – to cut pension tax relief for higher earners. The ‘pensions-ISA’ system was mooted as the culmination of a project to hand savers complete control over their retirement savings, while also providing a welcome boost to Treasury coffers in the short term.

During her time as pensions minister, Baroness Altmann voiced her support for the current system of taxing pension income, rather than contributions, indicating a split between the DWP and HM Treasury on the matter. Baroness Altmann’s replacement at the DWP is Richard Harrington. It remains to be seen how much influence he will have and on what side of the camp he sits regarding taxing pensions.

Meanwhile, Philip Hammond has entered the Treasury while our new Prime Minister calls for greater unity. Following a tumultuous time for pensions, a change in tone towards greater unity and cross-department collaboration would be very welcome.

In order for everyone to acclimatise properly to the new normal, the new chancellor should commit to a return to a longer-term, strategic approach to pensions policymaking, enabling all parties, from regulators and providers to customers, to make decisions with confidence that the landscape will not continue to shift as fundamentally as it has in recent times.

Steven Levin is CEO of investment platforms at Old Mutual Wealth.

To view all of Old Mutual Wealth’s retirement reports, visit: www.oldmutualwealth.co.uk/ products-and-investments/ pensions/pensions2015/