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All families disagree and when it comes to welfare, the Conservative family is no exception. Conservative voters view welfare differently, depending upon characteristics such as age, class and region. In Bright Blue’s report, Give and take, we explored how conservatives think about welfare, identifying ten views and principles held by conservatives:

Inevitably however, acceptance of these views and principles exists on a spectrum. In practice, particular Conservative voters place different emphasis upon different principles, not least because some of them are in tension with others. Beneath the ‘headline figures’ then, there is diversity and variation within the Conservative family.

What we found was that different groups of Conservative voters think about welfare differently. In particular, age, region, social class and experience of the benefit system all had an impact on the likelihood of Conservative respondents embracing or emphasising particular views and principles.


The age of Conservative voters has an effect upon how the purpose of welfare is conceived.

Since Beveridge’s 1942 report, the purpose of welfare has primarily been conceived of in one of two ways: as social insurance, a means of hedging against future risks such as illness and unemployment, or as a safety net, protecting anyone from falling into severe poverty. While the system has always been too complex to fully realise either of these models, they have been at the heart of public discourse about welfare. We found that these purposes resonated with older Conservatives, but markedly less so with younger Conservatives.

Older Conservative voters were more likely to see the primary purpose of welfare as either that of a safety net to protect anyone from falling into severe poverty (39% of 35-54 year olds and 41% of 55+ year olds) or an insurance system which people contribute to in order to protect themselves against future risks (34% of 35-54 year olds and 37% of 55+ year olds). These two purposes had markedly less appeal for the 18-34 age group, with only 31% choosing ‘safety net’ and 27% choosing ‘insurance system’.

Traditional ways of thinking of the welfare system appear therefore not to have the same appeal for younger Conservatives. On the other hand, a much larger proportion of this age cohort saw the purpose of welfare to be that of providing opportunities for struggling people to improve their own circumstances (26%).

Social class

The social class of Conservative voters impacts upon the degree to which recognising contribution is seen as important. 

Those Conservative voters in the lowest social class (DE) were found to be more likely to be supportive of contributory welfare, especially compared to Conservatives in the highest social class (AB). Sixty percent of Conservatives in the lowest social class preferred benefits to be prioritised on the basis of contribution compared to 45% in the highest social class.

This result is interesting because it invalidates the idea that concern with contribution is the preserve of those most detached from, and least likely to have need of, the benefit system. Conservative voters classed as DE were the most likely to be personally receiving one or more benefits. Furthermore, as low earners, eligibility for means-tested benefits in circumstances of unemployment or illness would be higher for DE respondents. Despite this, DE Conservative voters exhibited greater support for contributory welfare than other social classes.


Conservative voters’ region of habitation effects judgements about whether young people in their early twenties should be supported by their families.

Conservatives generally attach a special importance to the family unit and exhibit a greater approval of support provided by families. Compared to state welfare, such support is seen as more personal and as amounting to interdependency, rather than dependency. Nevertheless, family support is potentially in tension with another important conservative principle: personal responsibility. Where should a helping hand from one’s family stop and self-sufficiency begin?

In order to explore this tension, we asked respondents whether people in their early twenties should be financially self-reliant from their families or whether people in their early twenties are in a transition stage and should receive financial support from their families.

We found that there was a significant difference in responses to this question between those Conservative voters residing in London and those residing elsewhere in the UK. While a clear majority of Conservative voters outside of London (63%) agreed that individuals in their early twenties should be self-reliant, only a minority of Londoners agreed (42%), instead judging that these people should be supported by their family.

With regard to the tension between individual responsibility and family welfare therefore, London Conservatives appear to be exceptional in the degree of importance they place upon the latter.

This difference is likely due to the higher costs which young people face in London, including housing and transport, compared to those outside of London. This makes financial self-reliance more challenging, and may well serve to encourage greater acceptance amongst London-based Conservative voters that individuals in their early twenties need financial support. This is an interesting example of individual experience of the local environment influencing the acceptance of certain views and principles.

Personal experience

Conservative voters’ personal experience of the benefit system impacts upon their levels of trust in claimants.

As part of our polling, all Conservative respondents were categorised as either: personally receiving benefits, having personally received benefits in the past, having close friends or family who receive benefits, having people in their neighbourhood who receive benefits or knowing no one who receives benefits. These categories provided a spectrum from most experience of the benefit system to least. We found that these categories affected the levels of trust respondents had in claimants.

Conservative voters with most personal experience of benefits were more likely to trust claimants to spend their money sensibly (43%). By contrast, those with least experience of benefits had least trust in this regard (26%). Nevertheless, it is significant, and perhaps surprising, that even for Conservative voters who themselves receive benefits, a clear majority (57%) do not think that claimants spend their money sensibly.

David Kirkby is a Researcher at Bright Blue