• The changing attitudes of the Westcountry

    10th September 2013 | News | Claire
  • http://www.exeterexpressandecho.co.uk/Royalist-atheist-anti-benefits-Study-reveals/story-19772624-detail/story.html?ito=email_newsletter_exeterexpressandecho

    In 30 years, the South West has shifted from a Conservative bible-belt with sympathy for the unemployed to left-minded atheism with a belief that it is possible to find a job if you really want to, according to a new study.

    Less than a third of people in the region identify themselves as Tories, down from almost half under Margaret Thatcher in 1986, according to the study by NatCen Social Research.

    But while more people now believe unemployment benefits are too high, according to the 30th Social Attitudes Report, this has tempered in recent years. While as few as 12% felt unemployment benefits were too low in 2011, one in five said they do so now.

    According to Britain’s leading centre for social research, the study proves that, after a long-term decline in sympathy, austerity has begun to soften the public mood.

    However, they said it remains to be seen whether this would mark the beginning of a long term change in public attitude.

    Alison Park, head of society and social change at NatCen, said: “The nation has become much more cynical about the welfare state and benefit recipients, but austerity seems to be beginning to soften the public mood.

    “It’s also clear that on some issues the public are very divided in their views.”

    Ms Park added: “It remains to be seen what impact the coalition Government’s welfare reform agenda will have on public attitudes, and whether the small recent upturn in sympathy marks the beginning of a longer-term trend.”

    The study shows an increasing apathy towards religion in the South West, with 47% of people describing themselves as Anglican in 1987, compared to just 24% now. The proportion of non-religious people in the South West has increased dramatically from under a third to almost half.

    Meanwhile, there is an increased belief that most unemployed people could find a job if they really wanted, up from 36% in 1994 to around six in ten now.

    And while fewer people identify themselves as Conservative, more than a quarter support the Labour Party, up from 17% in 1986.

    Whereas a majority nationally thought same-sex marriage was “always wrong” in 1987, the number holding that belief has dwindled to just 22% now.

    Support for the Royal Family, which reached a low point in 2006, with just 27% calling them “very important”, that had risen to 45% just before the birth of Prince George.

    Contrary to popular belief more people say they have a great deal of interest in politics now, than they did in 1987, however the majority still had no interest.

    Penny Young, chief executive of NatCen Social Research, said: “Even with the more recent increase in enthusiasm, the majority of the population still show little interest in politics.

    “If politicians want to try to build public trust they should consider ways of giving the public a greater stake in the political process; British Social Attitudes tells us moves to direct democracy like referenda or the power of recall would be almost universally popular. New technology might hold some answers as well. The ability to debate the big issues of the day in real time and with politicians and ordinary people alike through social media may, for some people at least, lie behind this feeling of greater political influence.”

    What we think about…


    Over half (57%) of people in the South West currently believe that unemployment benefits are “too high and discourage work”. This has increased since 1986, when around two in five (39%) held this belief. However, it has decreased since 2011 when 73% – almost three quarters of people – held this belief.

    Almost a third (31%) of people in the South West believed that unemployment benefits were too low in 1986, while as few as 12% of people believed this in 2011 and 20% say they do so now.

    Political affiliation

    Almost half (48%) in the South West identified themselves as Conservative supporters in 1986. There has been a significant decrease since then, with around a third (29%) saying they support the Conservative Party in 2012.

    Fewer than one in five (17%) of people in the South West identified themselves as Labour supporters in 1986. This statistic has increased significantly since then, with over a quarter (26%) saying they support the Labour Party now.


    In 1994, just over a third (36%) of people in the South West expressed a belief that most unemployed people could find a job if they really wanted one. This belief has increased to around six in ten (58%) now.


    The proportion identifying as Anglican in the South West has decreased dramatically since the mid-1980s: almost half (47%) described themselves as Anglican in 1986, while around a quarter (24%) do so now.

    The proportion of people in the region identifying themselves as non-religious has increased from under a third (30%) in 1986 to almost half (49%) now.