What do YOU think about social policy?

The world now is all about open data. Governments now, ordinarily, make the data they collect available in fairly usable formats for you to play with and explore yourself. A really good example, that is useful for this module, is the Scottish Household Survey. Another would be the UK Government’s annual Households Below Average Income data.


In the spirit of open data, I’m making the headline results of the class social attitudes survey data available in a Excel spreadsheet for you to explore at your leisure. Clicky here to download. It’s also slightly easier to present this way.


Have a look and see what patterns YOU see.


Key ones I note are:

– You’re just like Scotland in so many ways;

– Just like Scotland (and the UK, the differences are marginally) you’re very contrary in your attitudes: you believe a substantial number of people claim benefits fraudulently AND a substantial number of people don’t claim what they are entitled to. You think benefits are too low, but you also think the balance of tax and spend is about right.

– You’re a bit more left-wing than the rest of Scotland on a few issues, such as redistribution and tax and spend, but then you’re a self-selecting sample of lefty social scientists;

– There’s an enormous difference in your attitudes to free higher education compared to the rest of the population of Scotland (unsurprisingly). You’re gaining the benefit of this policy right now, whereas the majority of the population of Scotland have, and will not, receive the benefit of it.


Add your observations to the comments below.


You might also wonder, well, why does this matter? It matters for social policy scholars because attitudes to these sorts of issues affect what governments can do, although there is a chicken-and-egg argument here. The staggeringly talented social policy academic Professor Peter Taylor Goodby has spent his career looking at this issue. Although lately he’s said his research has had no actual impact on the public’s attitudes.


It’s also useful for you. You might think “well I don’t have any political views” or “I don’t know what is or isn’t fair?” but if you have answered these questions, then in terms of social policy, you clearly do have political views and you also have some innate sense of why a particularly social policy decision is the “right” one. Now you just have to read social policy academic materials to add some academic weight to those views, and challenge them.

  1. Having looked at the policy of 'redistribution', I believe that the policy is fairer than the current policies pursued by the previous coalition government. It was fair because the better off in society paid a fair share relative to what they earned. At the same time, those on the lower end of the scale (e.g. Michelle Ackroyd who only earned £5,000 per annum) were able to get access to levels of money on which they could practically survive. I do also believe, however, that a maximum cap should be in place (£20,000 per annum).

  2. It seems the cannabis question has gone up in smoke for it is not mentioned above. I assume most are in agreement that it should be legalised. Which brings me to the elephant in the room which I think is the media. Aren't students opinions similar to Scotland's opinions as a whole because we are all exposed to the same status quo as expressed by the right wing press, and we have had similar life experiences? Could the welfare state have been established if the right wing press had been as dominant back in the 1940's as it is today? Practically everybody is in agreement that cannabis is a harmless substance. These opinions are however not based on what the media have been telling us but on personal experience. Not necessarily of smoking the stuff, but of at least knowing someone who has smoked the stuff. Even medical experts are in agreement that it is a relatively harmless substance, that can be of benefit to people suffering from certain conditions. Yet no action is taken on this because the people in power have no (financial) interest in changing the status quo. I would therefore conclude that people base their opinions regarding social policy on personal experience, and where they have no experience they let the gaps in their knowledge be filled by the (right wing) media.

  3. Ah, the old chicken-and-egg of social attitudes debate. I'm going to leave aside your points about cannabis legalisation - I just ask that out of curiosity; it's not social policy. On wider attitudes, when you're doing this week's workshop, you might want to see what newspapers had the highest circulation in 1945 and how many they sold. Peter Taylor-Goodby, who I mention in the post, focuses on this question in a lot of his work.

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