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Home Opinion Health and Social Policy Towards a More Selfish Society

Towards a More Selfish Society

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The results of the latest British Social Attitudes Survey (of nearly 3300 adults) have just been published – with some very worrying (but perhaps not surprising) trends revealed..... and apparently effected significantly by the current economic turmoil and the prospect of austerity conditions for the next 5-10 years...

Popular support for “green” taxes to safeguard the environment (such as electricity surcharges to fund wind farms) has declined dramatically in the past ten years – from 43% of voters in 2000 to 25% in 2011, whilst 37% think that claims of climate change have been exaggerated – an increase from the 24% in 2000.

Support for tax rises to fund more public services in health and education has more than halved – from 63% in 2000 to only 31% today. Opposition to university fees, private health care, and private education has all declined – suggesting that we are generally recognising that personal or private funding is preferable to tax increases.

More than half of those surveyed (54%) believe unemployment benefits are too high and discourage the unemployed from seeking work (up from 35% during the 1980’s).

The overall picture from the Survey is that we are generally becoming more selfish and focussed on personal advantage – and a major question for politicians as to whether we face the next decade “together”, or just in it for ourselves.

Whilst the Survey was done in the UK, and may not be fully applicable to the island, the results suggest that there is a growing recognition of the need for more personal responsibility, but that any vision of a “Big Society” may be a pipedream, with hardening attitudes towards a “benefit entitlement” welfare society. 

It would appear that the fear of losing out in these austerity times is driving us towards being more protective of our personal wellbeing - to the possible disadvantage of any social responsibility ("I'm all right Jack and damn the rest").

Our political masters need to be aware of these developments – we face some massive decisions over the next few years with enormous pressures on the national budget – an ageing population, major increases in the health and social security budgets, public sector pay, escalating public sector pension entitlements, difficulties with housing policy, losses on the bus services and at the airport, and the problems at the MEA, stagnant retail and construction sectors – are all combining in a “perfect storm” for our economy, and which will necessitate careful stewardship and a vision of political leadership that the island has not had for many years.

Let us hope the current crop of MHK’s are up to the job – it is not an enviable task.

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+4 #1 A Selfish Point of View?Jason Postlethwaite 2012-02-10 17:06
Mr Blyth's interesting review into the results of the British Social Attitudes Survey can be best summed up by his rather robust 'I'm all right Jack and damn the rest.' However, perhaps other explanations can clarify the results as outlined by Mr Blyth's article.

I am no climate change denier, but I am aware of the damage caused by the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. Leaked e-mails suggesting individuals may have suppressed data that did not fit into their idea of environmental degradation serve to create scepticism for their cause. Furthermore, the case for renewable energy has not been communicated well. There have been no extensive reports on mainstream media outlets regarding the effectiveness of existing renewable energies such as wind farms or their cost efficiency.

Increased funds for education and health may not be attractive to UK tax payers after witnessing over the last decade very real monetary increases with limited improvements.

Educational standards are still not trusted as seen through the UK Governments measure of reclassifying vocational exams such as Horse Care, currently regarded as being equal to 4 G.C.S.E.'s. Furthermore, the 'quiet revolution' of Free Schools where parents, charities, and social organisations can begin their own school, demonstrates the appetite that exists to break away from the suffocating state system. These schools recognise the valuable asset of an independent system wishing to meet high standards through placing trust in the professionals who run the school.

Furthermore, not a week goes by without some scandal involving another hospital. The Care Quality Commission recently published how more than half of all hospitals in England are not meeting key standards for dignity and nutrition in elderly people. The level of service within a handful of hospitals was even described as "unacceptable care". Considering all this, it is not surprising that further increases in funds are viewed with some negativity. Perhaps it is not in the ever increasing budgets, but through the very real need for reform in the structures of education and health where the better prospects for substantial improvements lie for our children and vulnerable in society who use our schools and hospitals.

When it comes to unemployment benefits, attitudes are certainly hardening. Current opinion polls in the UK show this with the UK Governments’ welfare cap of £26,000 recieving deep support from the public.

Perhaps this hardening attitude arrives from the fact that in the last decade, the UK witnessed over a million people enter the country looking for work. The people who entered the country often found employment, and actively contributed to the much needed agriculture, hospitality and service industries. However, pockets of the existing population on welfare remained on welfare. This led to charges that a culture of welfare dependency had arisen, with many recognising a welfare state, designed in 1945 to be a spring board, now as a soft mattress to snuggle into for life.

Is this view to be considered selfish? It is worth noting that the motives of the UK Minister Ian Duncan-Smith, responsible for bringing the welfare cap into being, are never considered to be anything other than a deep rooted concern for families where worklessness is a generational curse that has led to a culture of welfare dependency.

The report published by Ian Duncan-Smiths' think tank, The Centre for Social Justice, was very well regarded and has established his reputation as a Minister with genuine beliefs and values who wants to make a real difference to many families in the UK. After all, it is a widely held view that work builds self esteem, helps to form social skills, and provides an important education to one's own children about the need to wake up every morning and leave the house to be an active member in society.

Therefore, suggesting the age of austerity matched with an ‘I’m alright Jack and the damn the rest' attitude provide reasons to the survey's results do a disservice to our society. 'The Big Society' is not about funding unreformed institutions. It is about recognising that funding without reform has been attempted and largely failed to meet expectations. It recognises that the state is not always the best provider of services. It actively encourages every citizen to contribute to society in order to help the vulnerable, and it welcomes those not happy with their services, to do something about it.

I thank Mr Blyth for bringing this report to our attention, but I hope you will agree, not all the results in this report may be driven by purely selfish motives, but may indeed be driven by a different view of fairness that Mr Blyth has not taken into account.
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