More people believe the unemployed are workshy and fiddling the system, research says

Monday 5 September 2016 

Attitudes to the unemployed have hardened over the last 30 years, with most people now believing that they could find a job if they really wanted one and that they are fiddling the system.

And many unemployed people are among those who believe that those out of work could find a job if they wanted, the British Sociological Association’s conference on work, employment and society in Leeds will hear today [Monday 5 September].

Chika Miyata, of Yokohama National University, Japan, will tell the conference that in 1987 around 50% of British people surveyed agreed with the statement that ‘most unemployed people could find a job if they really wanted one’.

By 2007 this had risen to around 87%, before falling to 72% in 2015, the last available statistic.

In 1987 46% of those surveyed agreed with the statement that ‘most people on the dole are fiddling in one way or another’. By 2007 that had increased to 60% before falling to 52% in 2015.

Ms Miyata, an expert in labour statistics, used around 3,000 responses to the British Social Attitudes survey for her research, which also looked at opinion among the unemployed.

She found that of the 88 people looking for work who took part in the 2015 survey, 44 thought that the unemployed could find a job if they really wanted one. This figure was too small to be statistically significant, however.

Ms Miyata will tell the conference: “The data from the surveys from 1987 to 2015 show that there was a general increase in those who perceived that unemployment is one’s own self-responsibility or one’s own fault.”

Discussing the reason for the shift in attitudes, she will say that attitudes hardened after the New Labour took office and introduced its ‘New Deal’ workfare policy.

In 2010, after the Coalition government “embarked on the course of flexibilisation of the labour market and further pushed welfare to work, public attitudes surrounding the unemployed lowered further.”

The perception that everybody could get a job in the private sector if they were willing to accept lower wages gave rise to the belief that “an inability to acquire employment is one’s own fault and responsibility.”


1. The British Social Attitudes survey is carried out yearly among Britons aged 18 and over, with around 3,000 people taking part.

2. Ms Miyata carried out the research as part of her PhD programme at Yokohama.

3. The British Sociological Association’s work, employment and society conference takes place from 5 - 8 September 2016 at the University of Leeds.

4. The British Sociological Association’s charitable aim is to promote sociology. The BSA is a Company Limited by Guarantee. Registered in England and Wales. Company Number: 3890729. Registered Charity Number 1080235

For more information, please contact:
Tony Trueman
British Sociological Association
Tel: 07964 023392