Steven Van Riel, Labour’s director of policy at the last election, recommends that if party activists travelling to their annual conference in Manchester on Sunday want to read something truly frightening, they should bring the annual survey of what their fellow citizens think.
He is right, especially when it comes to attitudes about welfare. The latest British Social Attitudes survey spells out in agonising detail the collapse in support over the past decade or so for social security spending and what might be called poor peoples’ welfare.
In 1991 58 per cent of Britons agreed that government should spend more on benefits even if it led to higher taxes. That figure is now down to 28 per cent. More than half believe people would “stand on their own two feet” if benefits were less generous, with only 20 per cent disagreeing. In 1993 the responses were almost exactly the reverse.