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Social and political

attitudes of people
on low incomes

Authors: Allison Dunatchik, Malen Davies, Julia Griggs, Fatima Hussain, Curtis Jessop,
Nancy Kelley, Hannah Morgan, Nilufer Rahim, Eleanor Taylor, Martin Wood
Date: 30.08.2016
Prepared for: The Joseph Rowntree Foundation
Contents

Executive Summary
1 Introduction
2 Politics
3 Welfare and Worklessness
4 Key Concerns and Front of Mind Issues
5 Feeling in Control
6 Taking Action
7 Conclusions

Appendix A Method
Appendix B Panel sample profile
Appendix C Case study sample profile
Appendix D Variables included in the cross sectional analysis
Executive Summary
People living on low incomes have historically been excluded from politics and
policy debates, even when the question at hand is how poverty can be reduced
or its impacts mitigated.1
The aim of this research was to explore how people on low incomes perceive
politics, understand how far they feel they can control or influence the impact
of politics and policy on their lives, and provide a platform for them to speak
out on the issues that most concern them.
This report draws on three complementary projects: secondary analysis of
Understanding Society and NatCen’s British Social Attitudes survey uncovering
the social and political attitudes of people on low incomes, findings from a new
high quality random web probability panel, and a deep dive case study with
people living on low incomes in an Outer London borough.

Politics
Despite experiencing significant and persistent inequalities in living conditions
and life-chances2, people living on low incomes have social and political
attitudes that are broadly similar to their higher income peers. Over time,
as attitudes change, the pattern of that change is also similar, suggesting
that the same factors are influencing both groups. There are, however, some
key differences in the political and social attitudes of people living on lower
incomes.
People on low incomes are significantly less likely to describe themselves as
interested in politics. In 2015, only 25% of people in the low income group
said they had ‘a great deal’ or ‘quite a lot’ of interest in politics, compared to
40% of people in the higher income group. However, the percentage of people
on low income who are interested in politics is rising slowly but steadily: from
20% in 2000 to 25% last year.
People living on low incomes also appear to have less trust in their political
representatives. The most recent data shows that 61% of the lower income
group don’t trust politicians to tell the truth (compared to 50% of the higher
income group).
Political party affiliation remains closely coupled to income, with people on low
incomes less likely to support the Conservative Party, more likely to support
the Labour Party, and more likely to not identify with any party than their higher
income peers.
Results also suggest that people on lower incomes are less likely to see
voting as a civic norm or duty, a finding that reflects data on voting in general
elections, where turnout is consistently lower among people from lower socio-
economic classes.

The UK and Europe


Over the last decade and a half, attitudes to membership of the European
Union have been relatively stable. Although no difference was found in 2015,
in 7 years between 2001 and 2015, people on lower incomes were significantly
more likely to believe that Britain should leave the EU, more likely to be
undecided and less likely to believe that Britain should remain in the EU, but
reduce its powers.

1 Elitist Britain? Report of the Commission on Social Mobility and Child Poverty, London 2014.
2 See for instance McInnes et al (2015) Monitoring of Poverty and Social Exclusion 2015, JRF,
York and Wickham et al (2016) Poverty and Child Health in the UK: using evidence for action,
Disease in Childhood.
Figure 1 Proportion of respondents who say ‘Britain should leave the EU’ by income
group

Interestingly, people on low incomes are also less happy with the way in which
England is governed. While the most recent data showed no difference in
views about the best way for England to be governed, time series analysis
suggests lower income groups have both a higher level of dissatisfaction with the
current system, and a slightly higher level of support for establishing an English
parliament (22% compared with 20%).

Welfare and Worklessness


As with attitudes to politics and the political sphere, there are similarities in the
pattern of attitudes to welfare and worklessness across lower and higher income
groups, which show a long term decline in support for the welfare state, and high
levels of concern about income inequality. However, of the 14 questions asked,
11 were significantly related to a household’s income level, and just 4 showed no
significant difference.
This said, people on low incomes are more likely to see spending on benefits as
a priority for government (11% compared to 4% among higher income groups),
and to support increased public spending even when it requires increased
taxation (45% compared to 37%).
In the area of unemployment and benefits for working age adults, people on
low incomes are consistently more sympathetic to unemployed people. They
are significantly more likely to think that unemployment benefits are too low,
empathise with jobseekers and oppose requiring people to take minimum wage
jobs while they search for something better (only 50% support agreed that
someone should ‘definitely’ take a minimum wage job, as opposed to 62% of the
higher income group). They are also more likely to see welfare cuts as damaging
(65% compared to 42%) and to oppose the benefit cap (31% compared to 22%).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, 71% of people on low incomes feel that it is ‘mainly the
government that is responsible for supporting people who become unemployed’
compared to only 56% of the higher income group.
Overall, this paints a picture of attitudes to welfare and worklessness that are out
of step with the long term direction of government policy which has increased
transfers to pensioners at the expense of working age adults, and focused on
labour market activation and conditionality.

Key concerns and front of mind issues


The single most important concern identified by panelists was health and
disability, followed by personal finances, crime, migrants or immigration, and
housing. Although the priorities were the same across lower and higher income
groups, people on lower incomes were slightly more concerned about crime and
housing than their higher income peers.
Figure 2 Proportion selecting issues by whether or not living on low income

In contrast to this picture, participants in the depth research were extremely


concerned about immigration and its impact on public services. Participants
were opposed to increased migration to the UK, and felt immigration was ‘out
of control’. They believed that immigration had increased pressure on public
services, making it harder for them and their family to access services or make
choices about the kinds of services they wanted. Some participants believed that
migrants had unlimited access to public services and more preferential treatment
than UK citizens. Immigration was closely coupled in their minds with concerns
about health, education and housing.
Feeling in Control
Overall, across both high and low income groups, people felt able to exercise
some control over the issues they care most about.
Figure 3 Level of control over issue

Bases: All participants selecting issue, Providing or requiring care (204); Education (386);
Personal finances (615); Work or finding employment (319); Migrants or immigration (517);
Housing or your home (453); Health, including disability (853); Crime (423)

Again, immigration stands out as the exception, with 71% of people on higher
incomes and 76% of people on lower incomes saying they ‘can make no
difference’ to the impact immigration has on their lives. This research was carried
out in 2015, before the EU Referendum campaign had fully begun.
For most issues of concern, where people on low incomes appeared to feel a
much lower level of control, this was in fact being driven by demographic factors
such as age, or health status. However, living on a low income was associated
with feeling much less in control of housing, something that is unsurprising given
the affordability problems that are endemic in the UK market.
When asked about how far they felt they had overall control over their lives, those
on higher incomes felt significantly more in control (even when age and other
characteristics were taken into account). This also came across powerfully in the
depth research.
‘I might have a nice council place, you can be given – there are nice
council places. I might be put in a nice area but you just – it’s the
unknown. It’s the – that it is out of your hands when they – when you’re
given a council property that you are being told where you’ve got to
go and that being out of your hands, you cant choose and that, that
worries me, yeah’
For some of these participants, their family was the only thing they felt they could
exercise real control and influence over.
Conclusions
This research set out to explore how people on low incomes perceive politics,
and how much they feel they can influence the things they care most about.
It is clear that people on low incomes have attitudes to politics and public policy
that are broadly in line with the wider population, a finding that may be surprising
given how entrenched inequality is in our society, and how much the impact of
political decisions can vary for higher and lower income communities.
Trust in politicians and the political system is low and falling, but interest in
politics is rising slowly. Traditional party loyalties appear to be holding, as are
longstanding differences in the way people on low incomes perceive welfare and
worklessness.
Importantly, people on low incomes feel less in control of their lives and have less
faith in politicians to act in the national interest. Some believe that the decks are
stacked against them, that changes will be pushed through irrespective of their
views and they will be left to live with the consequences.
Particularly in the depth research, immigration and concerns about its impact
on public services and on culture emerged as a powerful and unifying theme.
Immigration as an issue was also associated with an exceptionally strong feeling
of powerlessness, and while this may reflect practicalities – individuals do not set
border controls- it also reflects a more fundamental malaise.
When this research was commissioned, the referendum on the UK’s membership
of the EU felt far away, and commentators and the electorate alike assumed a
vote for ‘remain’. As we adjust to the realities of Brexit, we are also adjusting
to a new political landscape. Many of the drivers of the referendum vote: a lack
of trust in the political class, concern about the scope of the European Union
and a desire to control immigration are reflected in the political and social views
of people on low incomes. As politicians seek a way to unify and lead the UK
through ‘Brexit’, engaging with the concerns and experiences of people on low
incomes should be a priority.
1 Introduction
Background to the research
People living on low incomes have historically been excluded from policy
debates, even when the question at hand is how poverty can be reduced or its
impacts mitigated.
Less engaged in formal politics or organised activism than wealthier peers, they
are more likely to be poorly represented in the UKs democratic structures3 and to
be misrepresented in the media, which often perpetuates a distinction between
‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor.4
Research into poverty has tended to focus on measuring poverty or material
deprivation, and understanding how poverty intersects with demography, social
outcomes and social services. Attitudinal research in relation to poverty has
similarly focused on exploring and representing low income communities’ views
on living in poverty and accessing services5.
JRF commissioned NatCen to carry out this research to:
• Explore how people on low incomes perceive politics
• Provide a platform forpeople on low incomes to speak directly about the
issues that matter most to them, through the establishment of a high
quality poll, and
• Understand how far they feel they can control or influence those issues.
When this research was commissioned, the intention was to support the potential
for a more direct engagement between citizens living on low incomes, politics
and public policy. Since then, the turnout, pattern of voting and result of the EU
referendum has shaken up mainstream thinking about the political landscape of
the UK. Now, debates about the political dimensions of income and class as well
as the unequal impacts of globalisation are front page news. In this context, a
clearer understanding of and engagement with the political and social views of
people living on low incomes is an important part of leading the UK through a
period of significant political and social change.

Research overview
The research is based on three complementary projects:
• Secondary analysis, using NatCen’s British Social Attitudes survey (BSA)
and Understanding Society (USoc) to explore the social and political
attitudes of people living on low incomes;
• Primary data from a new, high quality random probability panel, drawn
from BSA 2015, with a particular focus on people living on low incomes.
The panel was used to conduct survey work on social and political
attitudes;
• A ‘deep dive’ qualitative case study based on depth interviews with
people living on low incomes in one Local Authority area in South
London. The qualitative work explores the issues that are ‘front of mind’
for participants, and provides context and insight to complement the
quantitative work.

3 Elitist Britain? Report of the Commission on Social Mobility and Child Poverty, London 2014.
4 Albrekt Larsen et al (2012) The Institutional Logic of Images of the Poor and Welfare Recipients:
A Comparative Study of British, Swedish and Danish Newspapers, Working Paper 2012-78,
Centre for Comparative Welfare Studies
5 http://www.poverty.ac.uk/system/files/PSE_press_release_final.pdf
Our starting point for defining low income was the standard HBAI 60% of
median income measure. In the secondary analysis this required the creation
of a new BSA variable. For the panel, we introduced some flexibility to capture
respondents who fell just above the 60% threshold, but scored highly on material
deprivation measures. Throughout this report, ‘low income’ should be taken as
meaning this group, and ‘higher income’ as all other respondents.
A detailed description of the method and sampling approaches is set out at
Annexes A-C. A table showing the full list of variables included in the cross-
sectional analysis, along with the years they appeared in either BSA or USoc, is
included at Annex D.
2 Politics
This chapter presents findings drawn from cross-sectional analysis of the latest
available data from NatCen’s British Social Attitudes (BSA) and Understanding
Society (USoc). Our analysis shows that while there are some differences
between the way in which richer and poorer people perceive and engage with the
political sphere, these differences are not always pronounced.
Over time, we do see attitudes changing, but the pattern of that change is similar.
This suggests that across the income spectrum people’s views about politics are
being influenced by similar factors and to a similar degree.
Taken together, these findings are telling. People living on lower incomes
experience persistent and severe inequalities in both access to influence and
social outcomes, yet this different experience does not appear to translate into a
similar divergence in political and social attitudes.

How have attitudes shifted over time?


BSA data from 2000-2015 was used to explore how attitudes have changed
over time.6 It is important to note that BSA is an annual cross-sectional survey,
meaning each year a new sample is selected. For this reason, it can tell us how
the views of the population change, but not about the views of individuals.
Many of the variables examined showed shifts in the attitudes of the population
as a whole. For example, trust in government has declined over the past 15
years and public support for welfare spending has been in long-term decline, with
only a slight increase in the past 5 years.
The time series analysis also allowed us to examine whether the attitudes of the
two income groups varied in different ways over time. We found no interaction
effects that were significant (at the 5% level) between income group and time, for
any of the attitudes analysed. Therefore, results suggest that while attitudes are
changing over time, the pattern of this change is similar for both the lower and
higher income groups.
Trends observed among those on low incomes include:
• Although people on lower incomes were less interested in politics, the
proportion of lower income respondents expressing a high level of interest
in politics increased from 20% to 25% from between 2000 and 2015. The
proportion of higher income respondents also increased from 35% to
40% over this period.
• The proportion of individuals believing they have no say in government
fluctuated considerably between 2000 and 2012, ranging from 66% to
77%. The higher income group fluctuated between 56% and 67%.
• Distrust in politicians to put the interests of the nation above political
interests increased between 2000 (31%) and 2013 (40%), compared to
23% and 30% for the higher income group
• Distrust in MPs to tell the truth increased between 2000 (49% said MPs
‘almost never’ tell the truth) and 2013 (61%, compared to 45% and 50%
in the higher income group

6 Income thresholds calculated for the study using 2014 data


Figure 4 Proportion of respondents who reported having ‘a great deal’ or ‘quite a lot’
of interest in politics, by income group

Note: white data points indicate a non-significant difference between the two income groups

So while people on lower incomes appear to be growing more interested in


politics, they remain skeptical about the degree to which they can have any
impact on the political sphere and are increasingly distrustful of politicians, seeing
them as potentially dishonest and self-interested.
For views on taxation and spending there is some suggestion that the pattern
of change may differ between the two income groups (with the interaction effect
significant at 10% level). Views were very similar between the two groups
until 2008, when the lower income group became significantly more likely to
support increased taxation and spending than those with a higher income. This
difference remained in 2010, 2013 and 2014. In 2015 the gap closes again, as a
consequence of an increase in support by the higher income group.
Figure 5 Proportion of respondents who would choose for the Government to
increase taxation and spending, by income group

Note: white data points indicate a non-significant difference between the two income groups

This suggests that while the attitudes of people living on lower incomes are not
particularly sensitive to entrenched inequalities, they are sensitive to shocks. In
this case, the recession is correlated with a sustained increase in support for
increased taxation and spending across the income groups.

Differences of view between lower and higher


income groups
The key domains where views differed between lower and higher income groups
were politics, civic engagement, welfare and worklessness (the latter is covered in
Chapter 3).
Results suggested that those with lower incomes were less likely to view voting
as a social norm or civic duty compared with those on higher incomes. This
reflects data for voting in general elections, where people from lower socio-
economic classes have a markedly lower rate of turnout than their wealthier
peers.7
Evidence from both BSA and USoc suggested that those with low incomes were
less likely to believe that they could influence political outcomes. In USoc, for
example, those in the lower income group were significantly more likely to ‘agree’
or ‘strongly agree’ with the statements ‘I don’t have a say in what government
does’ and ‘politicians don’t care what I think’ than those from higher income
households.
However, logistic regression analysis found that once background characteristics
were accounted for there was no difference between the income groups in
agreement that ‘I don’t have a say in what government does’. Similarly, the lower
levels of trust in government among the lower income group in the descriptive
analysis were found not to be significant when other background characteristics
were taken into account.
Other factors that are known to be related to income – namely age and education
– were significant, and these factors may lie behind the differences found in the
descriptive analysis. Higher levels of education were consistently associated with
higher levels of trust in government, and a lower likelihood of agreeing with the
statement ‘I don’t have a say in what government does’. The relationship with
age was not linear. Ageing was associated with a lower level of trust until the age
of 49, when trust levels begin to rise, and the feeling of having ‘no say’ rose until
age 77, when it began to decline.

Party affiliation
While there was no difference in the strength of party loyalty, the pattern of
party affiliation differed significantly across the income groups. People on lower
incomes were less likely to support the Conservative party, more likely to support
the Labour party and more likely to not identify with any political party than higher
income respondents.

7 See How Britain Voted in 2015, IPSOS Mori https://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/


researchive/3575/How-Britain-voted-in-2015.aspx
Figure 6 Political party affiliation, by income group

Note: white data points indicate a non-significant difference between the two income groups

Few significant differences were found between the income groups in the
prevalence of civic action and engagement, exceptions being that those in the
lower income group were less likely to have signed a petition, raised an issue
with an organisation they belonged to, or gone on a protest or demonstration.
Similarly, those in the lower income group were significantly more likely to say
that they had never taken action against a government policy they felt was unjust
(64% compared to 48% in the higher income group in 2011).
Believing that it is almost impossible to influence politics has important
implications for whether people on low incomes choose to engage at all, but
it also has implications for the choices they make when they engage. In 2012,
approximately 65% of people on low incomes, and 55% of those on higher
incomes stated that they feel they have no say in what government does.
Immediately prior to the referendum, IPSOS Mori polling showed that only 26%
of the public as a whole and 39% of leave voters believed that the outcome
would be a vote to leave the EU8. Although there is no evidence that a significant
proportion of voters regret their choice, the fact that for many the choice was
made in this context is telling.

National identity, devolution and the EU


In 2015, income made no difference to the strength of British identity. Time series
analysis showed that in three years (2012, 2008, 2001) lower income respondents
were significantly less likely to identify as British, but there is no clear pattern
overall.

8 https://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/3752/Ipsos-MORI-EU-
Referendum-Prediction-Poll.aspx accessed 27/07/2016.
Figure 7 Proportion of respondents identify themselves as British, by income group

Note: white data points indicate a non-significant difference between the two income groups

Similarly, income also made very little difference to attitudes to the European
Union. Assessment of the benefits/disbenefits of membership, free movement
of goods and free movement of people as well as access to welfare for migrants
was similar across the groups.
On the key question of whether Britain should leave the EU, no significant
difference was found in 2015, but time series analysis revealed some differences
in earlier years. In seven years between 2001 and 2015 people on lower incomes
were significantly more likely to say that Britain should leave the EU. Conversely,
they were less likely than people on higher incomes to believe that Britain should
stay in the EU and reduce its power.
Figure 8 Proportion of respondents who say ‘Britain should leave the EU’ by income
group

Note: white data points indicate a non-significant difference between the two income groups
People on lower incomes were also more likely to identify themselves as being
undecided about EU membership.

Devolution
On the issue of Scottish devolution, there were no statistically significant
differences in the views of people on lower or higher incomes, with the exception
of one year (2001) in which people on lower incomes were more likely to say that
Scotland should leave the UK (23% compared with 17%).9
However, there are significant differences in how people on lower and higher
incomes view spending in Scotland, with people on higher incomes more likely to
say that Scotland gets ‘more than its fair share’ of government spending.
Figure 9 Proportion of respondents who say Scotland gets ‘a little more’ or ‘much
more’ of its fair share of government spending, by income group

Note: white data points indicate a non-significant difference between the two income groups

Similarly, while the most recent data showed no difference in views about the
best way for England to be governed, time series analysis suggests lower income
groups have both a higher level of dissatisfaction with the current system, and
a higher level of support for establishing an English parliament (22% compared
with 20%).

9 The sample is taken from England, Wales and Scotland, and views on both spending and
devolution are significantly impacted by country, but given the sample size it is not possible to
analyse by both nation and income.
Figure 10 England should be governed as it is now, with laws made by UK
parliament, by income group

Note: white data points indicate a non-significant difference between the two income groups
In past years, this difference in view about English self-determination would have
been worthy of no more than passing comment. However, the highly polarized
political landscape across the nations of the UK, together with the outcome of
the recent referendum on leaving the EU, mean that federalism, including the
potential for greater self-determination by and for England, are now live political
issues, with the potential to both be influenced by, and influence attitudes to ‘the
English question’.
3 Welfare and worklessness
As with attitudes to politics and the political sphere, there are similarities in the
pattern of attitudes to welfare and worklessness across lower and higher income
groups, which show a long term decline in support for the welfare state, and high
levels of concern about income inequality. However, of the 14 questions asked,
11 were significantly related to a household’s income level, and just 4 showed no
significant difference.
Although the difference is not apparent in the most recent data, in seven of the
last 15 years, people on lower incomes were more likely to agree that ‘the welfare
state is one of Britain’s proudest achievements’.
Figure 11 Proportion of respondents who agree or strongly agree that ‘the welfare
state is one of Britain’s proudest achievements’, by income group

Note: white data points indicate a non-significant difference between the two income groups

In addition to this, people on lower incomes were more likely to see spending on
benefits as a priority for government (11% as compared to 4%), and to support
increased spending even when it requires increased taxation (45% as compared
to 37%). Trend data on the question of increasing taxation to increase spending
suggests that this difference may be becoming more pronounced over time.
And while it is interesting to note that support for the welfare state as a whole
is relatively high across the groups, there are significant differences when it
comes to the focus of welfare spending, with people on lower incomes being
consistently more sympathetic to spending on working age adults.
Our analysis shows that people on low incomes are more likely to see
unemployment benefits as being too low, and less likely to see benefits as
encouraging dependency.
Figure 12 Proportion of respondents who feel ‘unemployment benefits are too low’,
by income group

Note: white data points indicate a non-significant difference between the two income groups

People on lower incomes are more likely to sympathize with jobseekers, and to
disagree with pushing unemployed people to take minimum wage jobs while they
search for something better (50% of people felt jobseekers should ‘definitely’
take a minimum wage job as opposed to 62% in the higher income group10).
They show stronger support for the proposition that it is the government’s job to
provide for people who become unemployed (71% as opposed to 56% of those
on higher incomes), and for having a more equal distribution of benefit payments
across the working age and pension age groups.
Finally, people on lower incomes were more likely to see cuts to welfare as
damaging people’s lives (65% compared to 42%) and to oppose the benefit cap
(31% compared to 22%).
Interestingly, over a third of people on low incomes also agree that ‘most people
fiddle the dole’ (36% of people on low incomes compared to 34% of people on
higher incomes in 2014).11 This compares to Department of Work and Pensions
estimates, that in 2015 showed only 1.8% of total benefit expenditure being paid
out as a consequence of fraud and error combined12.
It is possible that this perception is being driven by media representations of
benefit claimants, which focus on fraud to a disproportionate degree13. This
said, it does not seem to impact on the degree of sympathy felt for unemployed
people, suggesting that ‘fiddling the dole’ may be seen as a relatively normal part
of managing on an inadequate income.
What is striking about this pattern of attitudes to welfare and worklessness
among people on low incomes, is that it runs counter to both the long running
direction of welfare policy which has seen an increasing imbalance between
transfers to working age adults and those to adults of pensionable age, and the
more immediate welfare reform agenda, with its labour market activation policies
and caps to entitlement.

10 It is important to note that an additional 24% of people on low incomes thought a jobseeker
should ‘probably’ take a minimum wage job if it was offered to them.
11 Despite being included in all waves of the BSA since 2000, descriptive analysis shows just one
significant difference between the income groups, in 2001, on the ‘fiddling the dole’ measure. In this
case a higher proportion of those in the lower income group agreed or strongly agreed that ‘most
people on the dole are fiddling it one way or another’.
12 DWP (2015) Fraud and Error in the Benefit System 2014/15 Biannual National Statistics, GB.
13 Larsen et al (2012)
4 Key concerns and ‘front of
mind’ issues
Panel participants were asked to identify the political or social issues that were
most important to them. The list of issues used for the panel comprised the
following:
• Crime;
• Health, including disability;
• Housing or your home;
• Migrants or immigration;
• Work or finding employment;
• Personal finances;
• Education;
• Providing or requiring care, e.g. day care or social care;
• Other (please describe);
• None of the above.
Panellists were asked to select up to three of the issues from the list and to
indicate which one of the issues they considered the most important in their life.
In the depth case study, participants were asked to spontaneously identify the
issues that mattered most to them, without reference to any lists or guides.
Overall, when presented with a closed list of possible options, there was
strong agreement between lower and higher income respondents about which
issues mattered most. Although none of the differences were statistically
significant, when asked to identify the single most important issue, lower income
respondents placed a stronger emphasis on health, education, work and housing.
Health and personal finances were the most commonly identified issues, followed
by crime, immigration and housing.
Figure 13 Proportion selecting as top three ‘front of mind’ issues by whether or not
living on low incomes

Bases: All participants, Not on low incomes (1227); On low incomes (228)

There were no statistically significant differences found between the lower and
higher income groups when asked to identify the single most important issue.
Health was the issue most commonly cited, with 30% of panel participants
identifying this overall. Almost 20% of all panel participants identified personal
finances as their most important issue. Providing or requiring care was chosen
as the main issue by the least number of panellists (4%).
Figure 14 Most important ‘front of mind’ issues by whether or not living on low
incomes

Bases: All participants selecting anissue, Not on low incomes (1173); On low incomes (227)

The panel research asked people to identify their most important issue and
their top three issues from a closed list of key public policy areas. In the depth
research, we asked people to spontaneously identify the concerns that were front
of mind for them.
Interestingly, the responses in the depth research were quite distinct, with
immigration, crime (and policing), and the NHS/health identified as of most
concern.
In the following sections the key issues raised both in the panel survey and in
the depth research are explored further, starting with immigration, education
and health, as these appeared to be particularly closely associated in people’s
thinking.

Depth Research Participants


The qualitative deep dive included 18 participants living on low incomes in
an outer London Borough. Participants could be grouped into the following
categories:
• Singles and couples without dependent children: men and women aged
30-59. They included single people living alone and couples without
children (or resident children), or whose children had grown up and left
home. These participants were working in either part-time or full-time jobs
and spent some of their spare time caring for grandchildren or elderly
parents.
• Lone Parent families: women aged 35-52 with 1-2 dependent
children aged 6-16. They were either working part-time, including
on a self-employed basis or were unemployed and doing ‘odd jobs’
such as hairdressing and bar-work. These participants’ incomes were
supplemented by child tax credits and where relevant, working tax credits.
• Two parent families: couples aged in their mid-20s to early 50s with
one to four dependent children. These participants were in full-time or
part-time employment or described themselves as doing ‘odd-jobs’ while
seeking work.
• Pensioners: women living alone in their late 60s and drawing state
pensions. These participants had always lived in the local area and had
family nearby. They spent time looking after their grandchildren. These
participants had developed health issues such as osteoarthritis.

Immigration
Immigration was seen as an important issue among panel respondents (although
it was the ‘main’ issue for only 11%). However, it was the by far the most
important front of mind issue for respondents in our depth study, and they made
connections between immigration and other key areas of concern.
Participants talked about migrants, refugees and asylum seekers interchangeably,
and while in some cases they drew distinctions between more recent (first
generation) migrants and settled communities, for other people their concern
about immigration related to longer term patterns of migration and settlement.
On the whole, immigration was a front of mind issue because participants were
opposed to increased immigration to the UK, and felt immigration was ‘out of
control’. Views on the extent to which immigrants should be granted residence
in the UK varied. Some participants made the distinction between providing
safe haven for people fleeing conflict and war and enabling economic migration.
Other participants felt that further immigration to the UK should not be tolerated
at all.
Across all participants there were two interrelated reasons why immigration was
a matter of such concern. Firstly, participants believed that immigration into the
UK creates pressure on public services. They felt that this would not only make
these services harder to access, but also that it would reduce their ability to
choose the type of service they wanted for themselves and their family.
Secondly, though to a lesser extent, participants felt that migrants were given
preferential treatment and unlimited access to public services. In some cases
participants reported direct experiences that they attributed to this kind of
preferential treatment.
So concerns about immigration intersected in a significant way with other ‘front
of mind’ issues, such as health, housing and education.
In some instances participants explained that the issue of immigration had
become important to them when they began to notice the cultural impact it was
having on public services, mainly the education system. Participants who had
children or grandchildren in school explained that they had noticed that schools
had made changes to become more inclusive in terms of religion:

“Silly little things that affect you. Like Christmas plays don’t seem to
be what they used to be no more, cause you have to take into account
other people’s religion”. JRF 12

Less commonly, participant’s views had been influenced by direct experiences of


perceived injustice. For example, a lone parent with two children, one at primary
school, reported that her daughter did not get a place in her first choice of school.
She was aware that two children from a family she identified as immigrants were
awarded places at the school:

“I think, two Polish ladies looking and there was only, I don’t know, two
places, and Shelly never got a place because the two Polish kids got a
place because they were nearer the school and that kind of did piss me
off….I was kind of like, well it sounds really awful, well I was kind of like
‘that’s not fair’”. JRF 4
Participants explained that a lot of the knowledge they had about immigration
came from watching the news or reading the newspaper. In some cases,
participants had been following reporting on immigration over recent years and
this had gradually raised their level of concern. For others recent reporting,
specifically relating to the migrants’ camp at Calais (which had been in the news
a great deal at this time), had fostered their interest in and concern about the
issue.
Amongst the group, there was awareness that some of their views on immigration
might be perceived as racist. As a result they limited their discussion of
immigration and its impacts to family and friends they were confident shared their
views.

Education and schools


Just under a third (30%) of panel participants identified education as an important
front of mind issue. As we might expect, this was more likely to be chosen by
those with children in the household (39% compared to 22%).
Case study participants who had children and grandchildren cited education as a
‘front of mind’ issue. As noted above, this concern was closely linked in people’s
minds with immigration. The perceived influx of migrants was believed to have
had a detrimental effect on the number of school places available (compounded
by selective grammar schools in the area) as well as the quality of teaching, with
non-English speaking children reportedly dominating teachers’ attention.
The curriculum and school activities were also thought to have changed as a
result of immigration, and this was thought to detract from the teaching of British
or ‘traditional’ values:

“There’s no nativity plays now and I do think that’s unfair, because


obviously it is a British country”

Attitudes towards education and schooling were largely shaped by participants’


own observations and experiences or those of others around them. Participants
with little or no education, had, over time realised the importance of a good
education for the future prosperity of their children and grandchildren.
The implications of this linking of education and migration are significant. In the
deep dive we can see that education is (rightly) perceived as key to children’s
life chances. For migrants to be seen as encroaching on or limiting those life
chances has profound implications for cohesion, and for the importance attached
to immigration as a political issue.

Health and the NHS


Unsurprisingly, health was more likely to be reported as an important issue in the
panel survey by those with a long standing health condition (70%) than those
without (48%), and this pattern was also visible in the depth research.
In instances where individuals or a family member had experienced a serious
issue such as a heart attack, or had a long-term health condition (for example,
rheumatism), maintaining good health and health care were in sharp focus.

“As you get older, because I’m diabetic and also because I’ve got bad
arthritis and what have you, I think it’s nice to know that they’re there
for you.”

Waiting times for GPs, hospitals, and ambulances as well as poor hygiene
standards in hospitals were cited as explanations for why health was a ‘front of
mind’ issue. An additional concern, especially for older participants, was the
much discussed closure of a local hospital.
For disabled participants and participants with ongoing health needs the cost of
prescriptions and changes to the assessment process for disability benefits were
central concerns. In addition, some participants were worried about the social
stigma of being labelled a ‘benefit scrounger’ if disability benefits were spent on
visible items such as mobility scooters.
Long waiting times to access health care services generally and emergency care,
in particular, were seen as the direct consequence of immigration:

“It’s the same with the NHS you know, that erm, sometimes their
attitudes aren’t very good, they just assume that they can just walk [in]
and ‘I’ve got six kids, they need to be seen now’ type of attitude you
know, so. I know they don’t all do it, but you know.”

As with education, the fact that migration is perceived as having a direct negative
effect on access to an essential service is likely to have impacts that go well
beyond the health sphere.

Crime and Policing


Over a third (35%) of those on low incomes identified crime as an important
issue. However, only around five per cent felt this was the main issue they were
concerned with at the moment. In contrast, crime and policing was selected
as a key ‘front of mind’ issue by case study participants. Antisocial behaviour
was thought to have increased locally and those living on housing estates
mentioned longstanding issues with drug-dealers, knife crime and the presence
of paedophiles in the area. Notably, older participants were concerned about
crimes increasingly being committed by young people, particularly gang-, knife-
and drug-related crime.
Budget cuts to police services had led to local police stations being closed and
long-term residents of the area, mainly older participants, reported that they had
noticed a reduced police presence on the streets.

“When I was a girl you had bobbies walking up and down the roads and
everywhere...now you’re lucky if you see one”

Participants were also worried that police resources were not being well targeted
and that they were ignoring ‘big issues’ such as local paedophiles.

“I’ve passed six police vans today that have just been stopping random
people, you know, or random teenagers why aren’t they concentrating
more on these huge sort of paedophile scams that are coming around”
(Female, age 30-44 JRF5)

Despite these crime and policing issues being at the forefront of people’s minds,
they did not report feeling unsafe and had not generally experienced any crime
directly. Participants said they had not taken any action relating to crime or anti-
social behaviour in the local area because it did not really tend to affect them. For
some, this was combined with a more general reluctance to seek police help:

“I like to think I can kind of resolve stuff myself yeah. I also come from a
background where you don’t really grass people up unless you need to,
yeah, but then that’s really bad.” (Male, 30-44, JRF2)
Interestingly, it may be that attitudes and beliefs about crime and policing, like
those about immigration, were formed not because of direct experiences, but
because of budget cuts to the local police force and media coverage of local and
national crime.

“The news as well you hear of all the stabbings on these young children.
It sort of just makes you more cautious I think that this is happening.”

Employment and personal finance


Over a quarter of those on low incomes (26%) identified work or finding
employment as an important issue, with 12% saying it was their main issue.
It was significantly more likely to be selected as one of their three issues by
participants who were unemployed (63%), than the rest of the panel population.
However, this did not emerge as a dominant issue in the case study research
even though unstable and low-paid employment appeared to be the norm.
Employment status is closely linked to personal finances, which was identified
by 41% of those on low incomes as one of their key issues, and by 15% as their
main issue. Again, the issue of personal finances or money was not substantially
touched on by case study participants.
Perhaps surprisingly, a higher proportion of those not on low incomes identified
personal finances as their main issue compared with those on low incomes
(although this was not statistically significant).
A possible explanation could be that for those on low incomes, surviving on
inadequate income is a normal aspect of day to day life. This was a clear
finding from the case study participants, who described going to great efforts
to keep spending as a minimum, control the potential for debt (by using pay-as-
you go rather than billing), and prioritise key areas of spending:expenses such
as household repairs or birthday presents were considered unaffordable and
could set people back. Careful budgeting strategies were in place; participants
described going to great efforts to keep spending at a minimum by for example
limiting energy use and always buying reduced or sale items. Despite being more
costly, ‘paying-as-you-go’ was the preferred option, particularly compared to
large periodic bills and to direct debits which could pose the risk of falling into
debt.

“Mortgage and council tax are your top priorities. They can cut your
gas, they can cut off your electricity because you can survive without,
you can have candles or you can put extra layers on, but your mortgage
and your council tax are the most important” (Female, 45-59, JRF9)
“You keep the roof over your head. Let the electricity go...as long as
you’ve got that roof over your head. At least you can wrap up and get
bits and pieces” (Female, 60+, JRF11)

Housing
Housing was an important issue for both those panellists on low incomes and
those not on low incomes with over 30% choosing it as one of their top three
issues. It was significantly more likely to be selected by panellists in ‘other’
(assumed private) rented accommodation (52%) than those in social rented
accommodation (32%) or that owned their own home (26%). Housing, although
seen as important, was not one of the top three ‘front of mind’ issues reported by
case study participants.
The case study research found that access to secure and suitable housing
was a concern for those who were on a low income and were living in rented
accommodation, either private or social housing. These concerns were driven by
personal experiences of overcrowding, precarious housing and affordability. In
one case, a family household with parents, three children, and a grandparent lived
in a two-bedroom flat. Another example was of living under the threat of eviction
in privately rented accommodation owned by liquidators. Older participants
identified housing as an issue in relation to poor access to secure affordable
housing for their children and grandchildren.
Attitudes to housing were also affected by negative experiences of local authority
support. The result of a housing needs assessment was given as an example.

“The four of us in one room, isn’t overcrowded and I think that’s


ridiculous. I think whoever thought of that needs to be smacked in the
face. How dare you try and sit there and say that living in a room with
two children who have to share a bed isn’t overcrowded.”
5 Feeling in Control
In the previous chapter we explored the issues that most concern people living
on low incomes and that are ‘front of mind’ for them. In this chapter we explore
whether people feel that they have the ability to control or shape the issues they
feel matter most.
Panellists were asked to what extent they believed they could make a difference
to their front of mind issues:

Figure 15 Level of control over ‘front of mind issue’ by issue

Bases: All participants selecting front of mind issue, Providing or requiring care (204); Education
(386); Personal finances (615); Work or finding employment (319); Migrants or immigration (517);
Housing or your home (453); Health, including disability (853); Crime (423)

Overall, panel survey participants tended to feel that they could make at least
some difference to the issues they care about, but this varied significantly.
Participants appeared to feel more able to influence the impact of issues with a
direct relationship to personal choice (for example personal finances, employment
status, or health), than issues that implicitly include other people (e.g. crime or
providing/requiring care).
However, this pattern varied somewhat between panellists that were in and
not on low incomes. Figure 16 shows that participants on low incomes were
significantly more likely to say that they could make no difference to how issues
of health, housing, employment, and personal finance impacted their lives.
Figure 16 Proportion saying they have no control over ‘front of mind issue’ by issue
and whether or not living on low incomes14

Bases: All participants selecting each front of mind issue,


Not on low incomes: Education (329); Personal finances (509); Work or finding employment
(254); Migrants or immigration (432); Housing or your home (362); Health, including disability
(714); Crime (340)
On low incomes: Education (52); Personal finances (98); Work or finding employment (59);
Migrants or immigration (76); Housing or your home (87); Health, including disability (130); Crime
(75)

Migrants or immigration again stands out sharply here. Only 6% of participants


felt they had any real control over immigration and its impact on their life, with
72% stating that they have no control at all, rising to 76% of people living on low
incomes.
For some important concerns, such as health, employment and personal
finances, living on low incomes appeared to be associated with a lower level
of agency. However, when we controlled for other demographic factors, this
difference was no longer statistically significant. By way of example, Figure 17
shows that participants on low incomes who identified ‘health’ as a front of mind
issue were significantly more likely than those not on low incomes to say that
they can make no difference to how it affects their life (19% vs 7%).

14 Personal care is not included due to small sample sizes - only 24 participants on low incomes
identified this as a front of mind issue
Figure 17 Levels of control over ‘health’ issue by whether or not living on low
income

Bases: All participants selecting ‘health’ front of mind issue, Not on low incomes (714); On low
incomes (130)

Further analysis of the profile of panellists (Appendix A) shows that those on low
incomes were significantly more likely to report having a longstanding physical or
mental health condition or disability, which may explain some of this difference.
Controlling for demographic factors such age and whether or not the participants
have a longstanding health condition, those on low incomes were no longer
significantly more likely to say that they can make no difference to how the issue
of health impacts their life.
This suggests thatin some cases the underlying characteristics of people living on
low incomes, rather than low income per se, is driving feelings of powerlessness.

Housing
Figure 18 shows that participants on low incomes who identified ‘housing’ as a
front of mind issue were significantly more likely than those not on low incomes to
say that they can make no difference to how it affects their life (36% vs 15%).

Figure 18 Levels of control over ‘housing’ issue by whether or not living on low
incomes

Bases: All participants selecting ‘housing’ front of mind issue, Not on low incomes (362); On low
incomes (87)
Further analysis shows that participants on low incomes were also more likely
to report living in rented, rather than ‘owned’ accommodation, which may
explain some of this difference. The fact that they were more likely to be aged
18-34 (whereas those not on low incomes were more likely to be aged 45-59),
which is likely to be related to housing (in)stability. Controlling for demographic
factors such age and tenure, the difference between those in and out of poverty
remained statistically significant, suggesting that living on a low income has
a direct relationship to whether participants felt able to control their housing
situation. Given the direct relationship between income and housing, and the
very high level of housing costs in the UK, this correlation is unsurprising.

Overall level of control


On average, when participants were asked to rate the level of control that they
had over what happens in their life on a scale 0 (no control) to 10 (complete
control), they gave a score of 6.3. However, this varied significantly by income
status, with those on low incomes giving a significantly lower average score (5.6
vs 6.5).
Figure 19 shows the distribution of answers between these two groups.
Participants not on low incomes were significantly more likely to select scores
in the top half of the scale, while those on low incomes were more likely to
select scores at the midpoint (5). There is also a notably higher proportion of
participants on low incomes giving a score of 0 – ‘no control’.

Figure 19 Overall level of control over what happens in your life by whether or not
living on low income

Bases: All participants, Not on low incomes (1227); On low incomes (228)

The lower perceived level of control for those on low incomes remained even
when demographic factors were controlled for; participants identified as on a
low income were significantly more likely to give a score of 0-5 than identified
as not on a low income. This suggests that being on a low income is, in itself,
associated with a sense of having less control over what happens in your life.
Little or no control over ‘front of mind’ issues
Feelings of powerlessness dominated conversation in the depth research. The
three issues that stood out where case study participants felt they had little or no
control were employment, housing, and money (personal finances). Participants
felt that these areas of life were controlled and determined by employers,
landlords, and local and national governments.
Work and quality of work was perceived as entirely driven by the wider economic
environment. Reduced working hours, low pay / no pay cycling, redundancies
and long term low incomes were factors that participants felt they had no control
over. This feeling of powerlessness formed part of their coping strategy, enabling
them to accept and adapt to the ebbs and flows of work and income.
Associated with employment status, was a feeling of being disempowered
in relation to personal finances. Despite the budgeting skills and strategies
demonstrated by participants, there was a strongly held belief (for people in and
out of work) that employers and the government had control over their finances,
because they determine the level of income. Participants on out-of-work benefits
felt additionally disempowered by the barriers to understanding their entitlement
and decisions made about their benefits.
Particularly for those living in rented accommodation, housing was an issue that
was considered to be completely controlled by private and social landlords. Lack
of choice and affordability were factors that contributed to people feeling that
they had little control, as was the housing allocations system:

“I might have a nice council place, you can be given - there are nice
council places. I might be put in a nice area but you just - it’s the
unknown. It’s the - that is out of your hands when they - when you’re
given a council property that you are being told where you’ve got to
go and that being out of your hands, you can’t choose and that, that
worries me, yeah.”

Participants felt strongly that issues such as immigration, crime and policing were
completely out of their control, and responsibility for addressing these issues
rested wholly with government.

Areas of control
The depth research explored agency in more depth, looking at issues where
participants did feel that they could exercise some measure of control, as well as
those issues associated with feelings of powerlessness. The predominant view
was that they were able to control their personal and family life and their personal
and family health.

Personal and family life


Participants with children described strong family units within which they
asserted control and influenced decisions. Parents felt they had the power to
influence the personal development and decision making of their children, and
parents and grandparents felt they also had an important role in influencing the
attitudes and beliefs of children in the family:

“It’s my job to teach and train them and educate them into being proper
adults…..so my role is to control them into being, becoming good
adults.”
In some cases, those who lacked influence and were unable to control other
aspects of their life, recognised that their locus of control was their family. They
retreated from decisions that involved the wider world, including management of
their personal finances, and focused their time and effort on their family life:

“I have real control over is my family …. So I can influence them.”

Personal and family health


While the panel findings show that those on low incomes felt they had no control
over their health, case study participants identified personal and family health as
an area where they felt they could make important and high impact decisions.
For many participants this was exemplified by the ability to manage their health
condition or overcome illness and injury. However even those without a health
condition believed that their health was an aspect of life they could influence by
controlling aspects of their lifestyle, such as diet and exercise.
However, it is important to note that on broader issues related to the health care
system, participants felt they had little control, even though they had tried to take
action by signing petitions and complaining about the care received.
Overall, the degree to which participants felt in control depended largely on their
circumstances and was closely related to their income. They tended to focus on
issues (such as their children’s upbringing and education) that they felt they had
some control over. Participants appeared to be making considered decisions
about where they felt they should focus their energy and effort, and where taking
action would be futile.
6 Taking Action
Case study participants, whether they voted or not in the 2015 general election,
described themselves as having little or no interest in politics. Yet many
demonstrated a high level of interest in political issues, were abreast of policy
debates in some areas and had a good awareness of the activity of political
parties. Other participants were interested in political or social issues that
affected themselves or their loved ones directly.
The perception of being uninterested in politics, even among those who appear
very interested, seems to be a consequence of the idea that politics is what
politicians do coupled with negative views of the political class. First, participants
viewed politicians as dishonest; making ‘promises they don’t keep’, and second,
as having entrenched middle and upper class worldviews and would protect their
own class:

“I’m afraid that I just feel that they all feather their own nests and we
have to get on with it.”

This disillusionment was reflected in the panel survey data. Over a third of those
identified as being on low incomes were likely to strongly agree that ‘public
officials don’t care much about what people like me think’, and that ‘people like
me don’t have any say in what the government does’:

Figure 20 ‘Public officials don’t much care about what people like me think’ by
whether or not living on low incomes

Bases: All participants, Not on low incomes (1227); On low incomes (228)
Figure 21 ‘People like me don’t have any say in what the government does’ by
whether or not living on low incomes

Bases: All participants, Not on low incomes (1227); On low incomes (228)

Voting and civic action


Panel survey participants identified as being on low incomes were significantly
less likely to report voting in the 2015 general election than those identified as not
on low incomes (58% compared to 77%). Those that were on low incomes were
also significantly less likely than those not on low incomes to say that they don’t
know who their MP is (35%).
The depth research found that voting behaviour in the 2015 general election
specifically and elections generally was informed by a range of factors:
• Understanding of politics: regular voters demonstrated a good
understanding of political issues and debates. In contrast participants
who never voted found it difficult to understand politics and did not feel
informed enough to vote.

“I don’t understand politics whatsoever....Never voted, ever.


Never, ‘cause I don’t under….I don’t understand it, I don’t
understand it.”

• Interest in politics: regular voters generally demonstrated some interest


in social and political issues (if not ‘politics’ per se). Those who found
politics ‘boring’, were disinterested in political participation and did not
vote regularly.

“I don’t get involved I don’t take note of it. Whether that’s the
right or wrong thing, I don’t know, but I never have.”

• Habits and upbringing: always voting as a habit was believed to be a way


to demonstrate respect for the past generations who had fought for the
right to vote.
• Family and peer influence: the behaviour and views of parents, and to a
lesser extent, of friends were strong influences on the decision to vote
and who to vote for. Only political issues considered to be ‘major’ events
(examples given were the Paris shootings and the refugee crisis) were
discussed with family and friends.
• Experience of specific issues: those who did not usually vote because of a
lack of interest in politics changed their behaviour where they felt specific
issues were having a direct impact on their lives. Examples included the
introduction of the ‘bedroom’ tax which had forced a family member to
leave their home and concern about the possible closure of local schools
and hospital which had prompted someone to vote for the first time.
• Time: a lack of time to vote was identified as an issue that prevented
people from voting. This was particularly true for parents who felt there
were too many demands on their time.
Overall, participants struggled to explain the factors and beliefs that shaped
their attitudes towards political engagement and voting. It appears that media
narratives were the strongest influences on interest in political issues while a
general distrust of the political system guided voting behaviour.
Beyond voting, the pattern of broader civic action was similar across the income
groups: panellists were more likely to have taken part in ‘low effort’ activities such
as speaking to friends/family, or signing a petition/showing support online, but
less likely to have done ‘high effort’ activities such as taking part in a strike or
protest, or organising a campaign.
Figure 22 Actions ever taken when wanted to do something about an issue by
whether or not living on low incomes

Bases: All participants, Not on low incomes (1227); On low incomes (228)
Participants on low incomes were somewhat less likely to have taken all of the
actions except contact their local councillor or MP/MSP, and significantly more
likely to have taken none of them. In particular, they were significantly less likely
to have:
• Signed a petition (in person or online) or shown support for a group on
social media;
• Organised a campaign/action group or petition (in person or online);
• Attended a public or council meeting;
• Boycotted certain products;
• Donated money or raised funds for that cause.
Evidence from the panel and the depth research paints a stark picture: people
on low incomes feeling powerless in the face of the issues they care most about,
retreating to the personal and family sphere, and facing significant barriers to
taking action, whether by voting or taking part in other forms of activism. This
picture reflects long term trends about trust in politicians and political institutions,
as well as voter turnout.
It does not, however, reflect the level of engagement in the EU referendum. 72%
of the UK population voted in the referendum: turnout not seen in a general
election since 1997. Being from a lower socio-economic class (C2, D, E), being
out of work, having left school at 18 or younger and having a stronger English
identity were all associated with a vote to leave the EU15. And while other factors,
notably age, were also strongly associated with the leave vote, the aftermath of
the referendum has left us looking at poorer communities in a new light.

15 How the UK Voted and Why http://lordashcroftpolls.com/how-the-united-kingdom-voted-and-


why/
7 Conclusions
This research set out to explore how people on low incomes perceive politics,
identify the issues they feel matter most, and understand how far they feel able to
influence or impact on those issues.
It is clear that despite significant and persistent inequalities, people on low
incomes have attitudes to politics and public policy that are broadly in line with
the wider population, and appear to shift and change in a similar pattern over
time.
This said, the areas of distinction between lower and higher income groups are
telling. Party loyalties remain relatively stable, with people on low incomes less
likely to vote Conservative, more likely to vote Labour and more likely to have no
party allegiance. On the basis of the secondary analysis of BSA and USoc, there
is little support for the proposition that party loyalties are fracturing. There is,
however, evidence that people on lower incomes have consistently lower levels
of trust in public officials and MPs and feel like they have less control over or say
in political decisions. This lack of trust and agency has important implications for
the quality of our democracy and policy making.
People on low incomes remain consistently more sympathetic to the unemployed,
and supportive of the idea that it is the role of the state to support people who are
out of work, rather than employ active labour market policies. The medium term
direction of welfare policy, and the current welfare reform agenda is in many ways
at odds with the perspectives of people living on low incomes.
In the panel research, both low and high income groups agreed on the public
policy issues that matter most: health, personal finances, crime, immigration and
housing. This congruence suggests the possibility that politicians might build a
policy platform that responds to the concerns of the public as a whole. However
the depth research illustrates that the lived experience of people on low income
has a significant effect on how they view these issues and the connections
between them. In particular, it suggests that immigration may occupy a unique
space in low income communities, both in terms of its perceived impact on public
services (competition for resources and quality) and on culture. Immigration as
an issue is associated with an exceptionally strong feeling of powerlessness and
while in many ways this is a reflection of practicalities – individuals do not set
border controls - it also reflects a more fundamental malaise.
When this research was commissioned, the referendum on the UK’s membership
of the EU felt far away, and commentators and the electorate alike assumed a
vote for ‘remain’. As we adjust to the realities of Brexit, we are also adjusting
to a new political landscape. Many of the drivers of the referendum vote: a lack
of trust in the political class, concern about the scope of the European Union
and a desire to control immigration are reflected in the political and social views
of people on low incomes. As politicians seek a way to unify and lead the UK
through ‘Brexit’, engaging with the concerns and experiences of people on low
incomes should be a priority.
Appendix A Methods
Defining low income/on low incomes groups
Each element of the research investigated the attitudes of low income groups
in relation to social issues that matter to them, and the extent to which they feel
able to engage socially and politically to address these. An important aspect
of the research which covered all three elements was to establish an effective
method to identify people on low incomes. Using similar income thresholds
for different household types, a range of measures on material deprivation and
subjective income were also considered for the panel.
Secondary analysis
To explore variation in attitudes by household income, it was necessary to create
a new low-income variable for use in the BSA analysis. The nature of the dataset
meant that there were considerable limitations16 in how this variable could be
created. The option selected was to replicate the proportion of different types
of household categorised as low income in HBAI (using the 60% median income
BHC measure). For example, where HBAI reported that 19% of single parent
households fell below the low income threshold, the gross income band that
categorised approximately 19% of single parent households as low income in
BSA was selected.
This method was used for each of the BSA datasets from 2000-2014, using
corresponding figures from HBAI. Because banded gross monthly income
in the BSA is unequivalised it was necessary to compare, and try to replicate
proportions falling below the poverty threshold separately for different household
types and sizes,17 rather than the total proportion (household types are listed in
Table 1 below).

Table 1 Comparison of proportions of low income households – HBAI (2013-14) and BSA (2014)
Proportion below Proportion below
BSA income band -
Household type 60% median low income
poverty threshold
income BHC, HBAI threshold, BSA
Single adult, pensioner 22% £591 - 770 30%
Single adult, no children 18% £591 - 770 27%
Single adult, 1+ children 19% £591 - 770 27%
Adult couple, pensioner 13% £911 - 1,000 14%
Two adults, no children 9% £771 - 910 9%
Three or more adults, no children 9% £911 - 1,000 10%
Two adults, 1+ children 15% £1,201 - 1,300 14%
Three or more adults, 1+children 15% £911 - 1,000 17%
All household types 16% - 15%

The income bands identified for each household type were used to derive a new
binary variable for low income in the BSA dataset.

16 The development of the income measure is provided in a separate report.


17 Differences in the way household type is reported in HBAI meant it was necessary to use the
proportion of couple households with/ without children categorised as low income (9%/ 15%) for
households with 3 or more adults with/ without children.
The panel
The panel survey used a very similar approach to both the qualitative and
secondary analysis strands, using the same household income thresholds for
different household types. However, in addition to this, the panel survey collected
data on material deprivation (being able to afford a defined set of basic items)
and subjective income (participants’ own assessment of how well they were
managing financially). Where a participant was identified as ‘on low incomes’
using either of these two measures, the poverty threshold was relaxed so that
if that participant had an income one band higher than the threshold, then they
would also be identified as on low incomes by this measure.
The profile of those identified as on low incomes by this measure, and how it
compares to those identified as not on low incomes, or the population as a whole
can be seen in Appendix A.
The case study
The income thresholds for different household types, identified at the secondary
analysis stage, were used to select people on low income for this element of
the study. Individuals were included in the research if their self-reported total
household monthly income (from all sources and before tax) fell below the
amount listed in Table 2 based on their household type.
The primary selection criterion was income as identification by a combined
measure (as was the case with panel respondents) would have been too onerous
an exercise as the recruitment stage.

Table 2 Monthly household income thresholds by household type


Household type Monthly income
Single pensioner £910
Single non-pensioner £1200
Single parent, 1 child £1300
Single parent, 2 children £1700
Couple pensioner £1300
Couple non-pensioner £1900
Couple, 1-2 children £2400
Couple, 3+ children £2700
3+ adults, no children £2400
3+ adults, 1+ children £3000

It is important to note that due to the income measures used, findings from the
survey refer to people on low incomes and not in poverty whilst case study
participants were defined as living on a low income based on the above income
thresholds and self-reported sources of income.

The panel approach and sample profile


The quantitative findings in this report are based on a survey of a specially-built,
representative panel of adults in Great Britain. Conducted in November 2015,
a total of 1,478 interviews were achieved. The panel was established as part
of a feasibility study conducted for JRF during 2015 which aimed to create a
high-quality random probability panel that could be used for timely research into
topical concerns. It had a particular focus of ensuring good representation of
those on low incomes. The approach was to recruit individuals to the panel during
the fieldwork for the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey – a random probability
face-to-face survey. Various approaches to maintaining engagement were trialed,
with the November survey (on which this report’s findings are based) consisting
of sequential web then telephone data collection and the use of reminders and
incentives. A good quality sample was achieved and weights applied to ensure
representativeness.
Based on the definition of poverty described above, 22% were identified as living
on low incomes. The demographic profile of the panel is provided in Appendix A.
Key points are summarised below.
Age
The age profile of the panel shows that those living on low incomes tended to be
younger, with a higher proportion of those on low incomes aged between 18 and
34 years. A significantly larger proportion of those not on low incomes were aged
45 to 59. This difference in age is a consideration in relation to issues that are of
importance to respondents and the extent to which they feel they can address
these.
Health
Of those living on low incomes, over 50% reported that they had a long standing
health condition or disability. This stands in stark contrast to over a quarter who
were not on low incomes.
Housing tenure
Three quarters of those not on low incomes owned or were in the process of
buying their own home compared to less than a third of those on low incomes.
Although owning/buying a property was the most common tenure for those on
low incomes too, the spread across other housing tenures was more even with
24% of panellists on low incomes renting from a local authority and 21% renting
from a housing association or trust, compared to around 5% of those not on
low incomes. A slightly higher proportion of those on low incomes were renting
‘other’ which we assume includes those renting from private landlords.
Education
There were significant differences between the education levels of those on
low incomes and those not on low incomes. 30% of those not on low incomes
had a degree level qualification whereas only 4% of those on low incomes were
qualified to this level.
Over a third of panellists on low incomes had no educational qualifications
compared to less than 10% of those not on low incomes. It is well known that
level of educational qualification is linked to income, so it is not surprising that
this difference exists.

The qualitative case study


The qualitative case study focused on one geographic area and comprised
19 face to face in-depth interviews with local residents of a South London
Local Authority living on a low income. The interviews explored ‘front of mind’
issues and civic participation (the ways people choose to act on issues that are
important to them and barriers to taking action). A local advisory panel was set
up to gather evidence on issues affecting local residents and to promote the
research amongst their networks.
The case study sample
A set of income thresholds, identified at the secondary analysis stage, was
developed across a range of household compositions to define ‘low income’
groups. Individuals were included in the research if their self-reported total
household monthly income (from all sources and before tax) fell below the
amount listed in Table 3 based on their household type.
Table 3 Monthly household income thresholds by household type
Household type Monthly income
Single pensioner £910
Single non-pensioner £1200
Single parent, 1 child £1300
Single parent, 2 children £1700
Couple pensioner £1300
Couple non-pensioner £1900
Couple, 1-2 children £2400
Couple, 3+ children £2700
3+ adults, no children £2400
3+ adults, 1+ children £3000

The sample was designed to achieve diversity on a number of primary


characteristics: gender; age; ethnicity; household composition and voting
behaviour. A total of 19 interviews were completed. The distribution of the final
achieved sample of 19 interviews across these primary characteristics (as well as
economic activity) is shown in Appendix B.
There were four main groups of participants in terms of their household and
socio-demographic profile:
• Singles and couples without dependent children: men and women
aged 30-59, living alone or as couples without resident children. These
participants were working in either part-time or full-time jobs.
• Lone Parent families: women aged 35-52 with 1-2 dependent children
aged 6-16. They were either working part-time, on a self-employed basis
or were unemployed. Their incomes were supplemented by child tax
credits and where relevant, working tax credits.
• Two parent families: couples aged in their mid-20s to early 50s with one
to four dependent children. They were either seeking work or were in full-
time or part-time employment.
• Pensioners: women living alone in their late 60s and drawing state
pensions.
Employment
People who were working tended to be in full-time or part-time low paid jobs
in sectors or roles such as construction, service industry, social care, retail,
cleaning, taxi driving, administration and factories. Those who worked part-
time did this due to caring responsibilities for children, grandchildren or elderly
relatives.
For some, health issues had led to reducing their working hours (and pay) or
stopping work altogether.
Education
Generally, participants had low or no qualifications. Those with higher
qualifications had either left well paid jobs due to ill health or were
underemployed because they could not find work in the professions they had
trained in. For example, a trained osteopath who was unable to find work was
working ‘odd jobs’ in cleaning or painting to earn money.
Report structure
The second chapter presents the secondary analysis conducted using the BSA
and USoC survey data. It presents descriptive analysis of attitudes and also
explores attitudinal trends and change over time. The remainder of the chapters
present the findings from the panel survey and the qualitative case study.
Chapter 3 sets out the experiences of people living on low incomes and patterns
in how people manage their finances. The next chapter discusses the social and
political attitudes identified by both panel and case study participants as being
‘front of mind’. The penultimate chapter explores political participation and sets
out the ways in which people on low incomes/living on low income engage with
the issues that are important to them and the level of control they have to resolve
these issues. The final chapter sets out a range of high level messages that
emerge from this research.
Appendix B: Panel sample
profile
Appendix Table 1: Sample profiles by whether or not identified as ‘on low incomes’
Not on low On low
Total
incomes incomes
Sex
Male 49% 46% 48%
Female 51% 54% 52%
Age
18-24 9% 14% 10%
25-34 18% 22% 18%
35-44 17% 18% 17%
45-54 20% 11% 18%
55-59 8% 4% 8%
60-64 7% 7% 7%
65+ 21% 24% 22%
Ethnicity
White (Any) 88% 83% 87%
Black (African/Caribbean) 2% 2% 2%
Asian (Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Chinese, Other) 7% 11% 8%
Mixed 2% 2% 2%
Other 1% 3% 1%
Region
North East 4% 3% 4%
North West 10% 14% 11%
Yorkshire and The Humber 8% 10% 8%
East Midlands 7% 9% 8%
West Midlands 8% 11% 9%
East of England 11% 6% 10%
London 13% 16% 13%
South East 15% 10% 14%
South West 9% 7% 9%
Wales 4% 8% 5%
Scotland 10% 6% 9%
Political affiliation
Conservative 37% 15% 32%
Labour 27% 41% 30%
Liberal Democrat 6% 2% 5%
Other party 14% 13% 14%
Appendix Table 1: Sample profiles by whether or not identified as ‘on low incomes’
None 10% 23% 13%
Other/DK/Ref 6% 6% 6%
Highest level of education
Degree or higher 30% 4% 24%
A level or above 33% 23% 30%
GCSE or other 28% 37% 30%
No qualifications 10% 36% 16%
Long-standing physical or mental health condition or disability
Yes 28% 51% 33%
No 72% 49% 67%
Tenure
Owned 74% 31% 65%
Rented (social) 10% 45% 18%
Rented (private) 15% 18% 16%
Other 1% 6% 2%
Household type
Single pensioner 8% 16% 10%
Single, non-pensioner 9% 10% 10%
Single parent 6% 14% 8%
Couple pensioner 16% 12% 15%
Couple, non-pensioner 19% 7% 16%
Children, multiple adults 42% 41% 42%
Working status
In full-time education/training 4% 7% 5%
In work, waiting to take up work 63% 25% 54%
Unemployed 3% 15% 5%
Retired 22% 26% 23%
Other 9% 27% 13%
NS-SEC
Managerial & professional occupations 47% 12% 39%
Intermediate occupations 12% 9% 12%
Employers in small org; own account workers 9% 7% 9%
Lower supervisory & technical occupations 9% 13% 10%
Semi-routine & routine occupations 21% 59% 29%
Benefits recipient
Yes 49% 74% 54%
No 51% 26% 46%

Base 1227 228 1478


Appendix C Case study sample
profile
Criteria Characteristic Total
Single 4
Lone parents (dependent children) 4
Household composition
Couples without children 2
Couples with dependent children 9

Whether voted in 2015 Yes 8


General election No 11
18-29 1
30-44 9
Age
45-59 7
60+ 2
Female 13
Gender
Male 6
BME 6
Ethnicity
Non-BME 13
In paid work – part time 8
In paid work – full time 3
Economic activity Not in paid work – on out of work benefits 3
Retired 2
Self-employed 3
Appendix D: Variables included
in the cross-sectional analysis
Politics and civic engagement and activity

Sig
Variable
Survey Survey year* Question summary difference by P value
name
income
BSA Partyid1 2000-2015 Party identification ü .000
Strength of party
BSA Idstrng 2000-2014 X .597
identification
Level of interest in
USoc Vote6 2009/10-2012/13 ü .000
politics
BSA Politics 2000-2015 Interest in politics ü .000
People like me have
BSA GovNoSay 00-03,05,10-12 no say in what the X .060
government does
Politics too
BSA GovComp 00,02,03,05,10-12 complicated to ü .001
understand
Qualified to
USoc Poleff1 2011/12 ü .000
participate in politics
Better informed about
USoc Poleff2 2011/12 ü .000
politics than most
Public officials don’t
USoc Poleff3 2011/12 care about what I ü .000
think
I don't have a say
USoc Poleff4 2011/12 in what government ü .000
does
Perceived political
USoc Perpolinf 2011/12 ü .042
influence
Not worth voting
/ everyone's duty
BSA VoteDuty 00,0,04,05,08-11,13 X .136
to vote in general
election
Voting as a social
USoc Votenorm 2011/12 ü .000
norm
Voting is the only way
BSA VoteOnly 00,02-04,10-12 people like me can ü .039
have a say
Trust the government
BSA GovTrust 00-07,09-13 to put nation’s needs ü .033
first
BSA MPsTrust 00,02,03,5-7,9-13 Trust MPs to tell truth ü .028
BSA NHSRun2 09,12,14 NHS well run X .695
BSA policrn2 09,12,14 Police well run ü .019
Whether signed a
BSA SocAct1 2004, 2014 ü .006
petition
Whether has
boycotted, or
BSA SocAct2 2004, 2014 X .521
deliberately bought,
certain products
Whether took part in a
BSA SocAct3 2004, 2014 X .581
demonstration
Whether attended a
BSA SocAct4 2004, 2014 political meeting or X .309
rally
Whether contacted
a politician or a civil
BSA SocAct5 2004, 2014 X .261
servant to express
your views
Whether donated
money or raised funds
BSA SocAct6 2004, 2014 X .157
for a social or political
activity
Whether contacted or
BSA SocAct7 2004, 2014 appeared in the media X .607
to express your views,
Whether expressed
BSA SocAct8 2004, 2014 political views on the X .815
internet
ever contacted
BSA DoneMP 00,02,03,05,11 your MP about a X .142
government action
ever spoken to an
influential person
BSA DoneSpk 00,02,03,05,11 X .121
about a government
action
ever contacted
a government
BSA DoneGov 00,02,03,05,11 X .218
department about a
government action
ever contacted radio,
TV or newspaper
BSA DoneTV 00,02,03,05,11 X .082
about a government
action
ever signed a petition
BSA DoneSign 00,02,03,05,11 about a government ü .000
action
ever raised an issue
in an organisation
BSA DoneRais 00,02,03,05,11 ü .014
you belong to about a
government action
ever gone on a protest
or demonstration
BSA DoneProt 00,02,03,05,11 ü .038
about a government
action
ever formed a group
of like-minded people
BSA DoneGrp 00,02,03,05,11 X .605
about a government
action
never done any of
BSA DoneNone 00,02,03,05,11 these things about a ü .000
government action
People willing to help
USoc Nbrcoh2 2011/12 ü .000
their neighbours
People in
USoc Nbrcoh3 2011/12 neighbourhood can ü .000
be trusted
People in this
neighbourhood don't
USoc Nbrcoh4 2011/12 ü .000
get along with each
other
Volunteered in past 12
USoc Volun 2011/12 ü .000
months
Frequency of
USoc Volunfreq 2010-11, 2012/13 X .479
volunteering
Importance of being
USoc Britid 2011 /12 X .978
British
Which of the following
BSA BNationU 2001-2015 best describes your X .243
nationality
Leave / reduce / stay /
BSA ECPolicy 1993-2015 X .279
increase EU powers
How important British
BSA euimpor1 1997, 2014 free to get jobs in any X .412
other EU countries?
How important British
BSA euimpor3 1997, 2014 can sell goods in EU X .199
without customs?
Britain benefits or not
BSA UKBenEU 1995, 2013 from being member X .371
of EU
Benefits of migrants
BSA benfEU 2013 from EU outweigh X .390
costs
Whether Scotland
BSA UKSpnGBE 01,03,07,11-13,15 gets fair share of ü .038
government spending
Whether Scotland
should be
BSA ScoPar2 01,07,11-13 X .102
independent or part
of UK
Best way to govern
England? UK
BSA EngParGB 99, 01-03, 07-13, 15 parliament, regional X .197
assembly or English
parliament
Better for England to
BSA EngLvUKE 2007, 2013 remain part of UK or ü .002
independent
* The BSA survey was analysed from 2000 onwards only, therefore some questions may have
been asked in years before 2000.
Welfare and worklessness

Significant
Variable
Survey Survey year* Q summary difference by P value
name
income
BSA  First and second
  Spend1/2 1983-2014 priority area for ü .000
  public spending
Gov. should reduce/
BSA TaxSpend 1983-2015 increase taxes and X .900
spending
More spending on
BSA MoreWelf 1987-2015 ü .000
benefits needed
First and second
1983-2014 (alternate
BSA SocBen1/2 priority area for social ü .000
yrs)
benefit spending
Unemployment
BSA Dole 1983-2015 ü .000
benefits too high/low
Benefits cuts would
BSA DamLives 2000-2014 ü .000
be damaging
Benefits discourage
BSA WelfFeet 1987-2014 people from standing ü .001
on their own two feet
Welfare state is great
BSA ProudWlf 2000-2015 X .381
achievement
83-90,94,98- Many people falsely
BSA FalseClm X .785
04,06,08,0,12,13 claim
83-90,94,98- Many eligible people
BSA FailClm ü .033
04,06,08,0,12,13 don't claim
Many people who
BSA SocHelp 1987-2014 get social security X .090
don't deserve help
Most recipients are
BSA DoleFidl 1987-2014 X .516
fiddling
Should YPs be
BSA Ypelig 2014 eligible for same ü .009
benefits as 25+?
Hhlds receive all
BSA BenHH 2014 bens OR less than ü .005
average hhld income
Work is only a means
BSA NwEmpErn 00-03, 07, 12 ü .034
to live
Why say working is
BSA NwEmpLiv 00-02, 07, 12 X .316
only means to live
Would enjoy having
USoc scwkimp 2012/13 a paid job even if not ü .029
need money
Would like to start
USoc jblkchd 2010/11, 2012/13 ü .000
own business
05-07, 10 How satisfied are you ü .006
BSA/ USoc jobsat3/ jbsat
2010/11, 2012/13 with your job? X .142
How satisfied are you
BSA hrssatis 2005, 2007, 2010 X .842
with your hours?
Would you prefer a
BSA prefhr2 2003-2010 job with more/fewer ü .000
hours?
Would you prefer
fewer hours even
BSA earnhr2 2003-2010 X .475
if you earned less
money?
Would like to give up
USoc jblkche 2010/11, 2012/13 ü .000
paid work
Satisfaction with
USoc sclfsat7 2009/10-2012/13 amount of leisure ü .000
time
Unemployed don't
BSA UnempJob 1987-2014 ü .004
try hard enough
Take minimum wage
BSA UBJwage 2007, 2012 ü .000
or benefits
Take short term work
BSA UBJcontr 2007, 2012 ü .000
or benefits
Take job not
BSA UBJint 2007, 2012 interested in or ü .006
benefits
Redundancy: who
BSA UnemResp 2001, 2003, 2011 responsible for ü .000
supporting
Extent of gap
BSA IncomGap 00-04, 06-10, 12-13 between high/low X .645
earners
Gov should top up
2000, 2003, 2005,
BSA TopUpChn low paid couple ü .000
2010, 2013
parents
2000, 2003, 2005, Gov should top up
BSA TopUpLPa ü .006
2010, 2013 working lone parents
LowWage/ Employers will pay
BSA 2012-13 X .765
LowWage2 lower if gov tops up
* The BSA survey was analysed from 2000 onwards only, therefore some questions may have been
asked in years before 2000.