IFF Conference Review

Thoughts from this year’s SRA conference (7/07/15)

The end of 5 years of coalition government and the day before the first “pure” Conservative budget in almost 20 years felt like a perfect time to take stock. This was a chance to share what our industry can tell us about the way society has changed since 2010, and to ask what the next parliamentary term might have in store.

Did attitudes change as we would expect during the coalition years?

The British Social Attitudes survey (BSA) has long been a rich source of data on the changing face of British society. We heard from Naomi Jones of NatCen Social Research, who made some interesting comparisons between what we might have expected to see in terms of public opinion during the coalition years and what actually happened.

During a time characterised by the rise of UKIP and considerable cuts to public spending, one may reasonably expect to see a rise in Euroscepticism and some degree of backlash against austerity. In reality, the BSA shows that any spike in Eurosceptic opinion before the 2015 General Election has now returned to pre-2010 levels.  In the run up to referendum on EU membership, IFF’s Business Omnibus will be tracking the business perspective on a possible European exit.

In terms of the cuts, the BSA has not shown a notable fall in support for welfare since 2010, with no pick up in the popularity of tax and spend. Whether this is a lack of faith in the welfare system – certainly elements of the popular UK press have contributed to a negative discourse – or whether it shows wider support for austerity is not clear. But figures such as these may have been on the mind of opposition politicians, many of whom have been reluctant to outright reject the cuts planned for the next parliament.

Could opposition to further cuts pose a threat to this government?

What remains to be seen is whether further cuts may just tip the balance of public opinion and provide a problem for the current government. Not necessarily, it seems, given what we heard from John Hills, Director of the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE) at the London School of Economics, who provided us with a view on the social policy impact of the cuts which characterised the last parliament. The cuts in welfare, he argued, have been selective and his analysis shows that their impacts have not been universally felt. In particular, while the young and the ‘working poor’ tend to be worse off, pensions have been protected.

Whatever happens next, the SRA conference was a great opportunity to celebrate how social research can shed light on complex issues in uncertain times as well as acting as a platform to discuss these issues with old friends and new.