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Just 3% in Scotland and 6% in England say British government is successful in reducing divide between high and low earners

29 October 2020 | Tags: British Social Attitudes, BSA, BSA37

New research from NatCen’s latest British Social Attitudes report reveals striking levels of pessimism in both Scotland and England about current levels of social inequality, but finds that people in Scotland are slightly more ‘left wing’ than in England.

For the first time, the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) and the Scottish Centre for Social Research (ScotCen) ran the same module of questions about social inequality on both their British Social Attitudes and their Scottish Social Attitudes surveys, thereby making it possible to compare systematically views in Scotland and England.

The surveys reveal that both nations feel that society today is too unequal.

Almost three quarters (72%) of people in Scotland say that income distribution is “unfair” or “very unfair”, as do around two thirds (65%) of people in England.

Shown five diagrams, people north and south of the border are both most likely to say that society today can be described as “like a pyramid with a small elite at the top, more people in the middle, and most at the bottom”. Yet half of all respondents in both nations (51% and 50%) say we ought to live in a society that has most people in the middle. Around four in every five people in both Scotland (81%) and in England (77%) say that society does not look as it ought to today.

Most people in both nations (53% in Scotland and 55% in England) agree that government has greatest responsibility for reducing the gap between high and low earners. But only a small minority – 3% in Scotland and 6% in England – say the British government is successful nowadays in doing so.

A stronger appetite for change in Scotland?

Despite the similarity in attitudes and perceptions in the two nations, there is some evidence to suggest that people in Scotland are slightly more “left wing” than in England, and that the appetite for change may be stronger north of the border.

Almost half of people in Scotland (44%) think taxes for high earners are too low or much too low. In England by contrast, there is a near even split between those who think taxes for high earners are too low (36%) and those who think they are about right (33%).

Similarly, almost half of people in Scotland think it is wrong that people on higher incomes can buy better education (45%) or healthcare (42%), versus around one third in England (34% and 32%).

Politics matters

Political allegiances appear to play a strong part in shaping views on inequality, with Scottish independence supporters the most likely to view British government as unsuccessful in reducing the gap between high and low earners.

Around seven in ten people in Scotland who support independence (73%) or the SNP (70%) say British government today is “very unsuccessful” or “quite unsuccessful” in reducing the divide between high and low earners. This is compared with only around half of pro-union supporters in Scotland (55%) and half of Conservative voters in England (53%).

James Yarde, Senior Statistician at the National Centre for Social Research, said: “This new research confirms the long-held view that people in Scotland may be slightly more ‘left wing’ than people in England. Yet where differences in views on inequality do exist, they may reflect political identities more than anything else. People in Scotland who support independence are, for example, much more likely to express dissatisfaction with the British government’s record on reducing social inequality. Addressing national and regional inequalities within the UK was a core theme of the Scottish independence campaign, and we might expect this issue to feature prominently once again, now that independence is back at the forefront of Scottish politics.”

Download the Social inequality report from our British Social Attitudes website.