Britain 'closer to Margaret Thatcher's core beliefs than when she left office'

The country is at a "political crossroads" but attitudes are now "far closer" to many of Margaret Thatcher's core beliefs than when she left office, a report on social trends has claimed.

Despite concern over the gap between rich and poor there are hardening attitudes towards benefit claimants, the British Social Attitudes 2009 report from the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) found.

Only 27 per cent of people believed the government should spend more on benefits, down from 58 per cent in 1991 after Thatcher's reign.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Meanwhile, trust in the government and the banks fell to an all-time low. Some 40 per cent of people said they "almost never" trust the government. The figure has fluctuated from 14 per cent in 1991 to 23 per cent in 1997 and a previous high of 34 per cent in 2006.

NatCen chief executive Penny Young said: "The survey points to a nation at a political crossroads between left and right: it is perhaps little surprise that the election resulted in a coalition.

"On the one hand we are seeing a hardening of attitudes towards welfare reform, whilst on the other there is strong support for investment in health and education.

"Record levels of investment under Labour appear to have paid off in terms of public satisfaction, particularly on health, where satisfaction levels are now at all-time high.

"The coalition will need to tread carefully to avoid a backlash against the potential impact of reform or failure to invest.

"In contrast, changing attitudes to welfare are in tune with the government, suggesting the public will back benefit reform.

"It is 20 years since Margaret Thatcher left office, but public opinion is far closer now to many of her core beliefs than it was then.

"Our findings show that attitudes have hardened over the last two decades."