New SPERI Brief: Welfare recipients, public opinion and ‘deservingness’

Brief-22-150SPERI has today published a new British Political Economy Brief on ‘Welfare recipients, public opinion and ‘deservingness”. The new Brief, which considers public attitudes towards welfare, is the second SPERI brief by Liam Stanley (SPERI Associate Fellow) and Todd Hartman (Sheffield Methods Institute).

Download Brief No.22: Welfare recipients, public opinion and ‘deservingness’.

Liam and Todd’s first Brief, published in November 2015, looked at the Government’s annual tax summaries and showed how the presentation of state spending may lead to lower support for state spending, and could contribute to anti-welfare sentiments. This new Brief analyses the results of a survey which explored who the public thinks should be considered as a ‘welfare recipient’, and which types of state support are understood as ‘welfare’. The results highlight a link between the perceived ‘deservingness’ of a group and the extent to which they are considered welfare recipients. The results demonstrate that although many different groups of people receive state-funded help, members of the public instead focus on certain groups in society: the less stereotypically ‘deserving’ a group is considered, the more likely they are to be deemed as welfare recipients.

The authors suggest that a shift has taken place in the meaning of welfare: whereas welfare used to have positive connotations (think of the rise of the NHS, the post-war period, and so on) it is increasingly seen in a negative light as a way of supporting those who do not deserve to be helped. The political implications of this shift can be seen in both rhetoric and policy-making related to welfare.