Despite attempts from some quarters to roll back liberal values, the UK has become one of the world’s most progressive nations
Despite the ongoing culture wars, the UK now ranks as one of the world’s most socially liberal countries, following huge shifts in attitudes on issues such as homosexuality, casual sex, abortion, euthanasia and divorce.
That’s according to a study by the Policy Institute at King’s College London. It assessed attitudes in 23 nations and ranked the UK as one of the most accepting.
The biggest shift in attitude was seen around homosexuality. It found that two-thirds (66 per cent) of Britons now believe homosexuality is ‘justifiable’ – up from just 12 per cent in 1981. Much of that change has occurred over a short timeframe: as recently as 2009, only a third (33 per cent) thought homosexuality was justifiable.
Somewhat surprisingly, the UK is now more liberal than France when it comes to casual sex, the research suggests. In 1999, one in 10 Britons believed that having casual sex was ‘justifiable’. Today more than four times as many (42 per cent) hold this view. In France, it is 26 per cent.
Attitudes have also changed on abortion. Half (48 per cent) of the British public now believe that abortion is ‘justifiable’ – more than three times the proportion who said the same in 1981 (14 per cent). Similar shifts were reported around euthanasia, divorce and prostitution, though the death penalty is one issue where the UK was found to be less liberal, with many peer nations more disapproving of its use.
“It’s easy to lose sight of just how much more liberal the UK has become over a relatively short period of time, and how liberal we are relative to many other nations,” said Prof Bobby Duffy, director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London. “This mostly isn’t just driven by younger generations replacing older generations. All generations have changed their views significantly.”
The findings chime with research by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen). Its annual poll tracks the evolution of British social, political and moral attitudes by asking 3,000 people for their views on life in Britain.
The latest survey found that the majority of the UK public are now in agreement with so-called ‘woke’ sentiments, as the balance of public opinion shifts in favour of an inclusive outlook on racial equality, immigration and sexual identity.
Despite anti-immigrant rhetoric from right-wing politicians and their cheerleaders in the media, the poll found that the proportion of people believing immigration was ‘bad for the economy’ halved from 42 per cent to 20 per cent in the decade to 2021. Those saying it was good rose from 21 per cent to 50 per cent.
It’s easy to lose sight of just how much more liberal the UK has become
Meanwhile, 45 per cent of Britons believe that equal opportunities for black and Asian people have not gone far enough, up from 25 per cent in 2000.
“The more liberal or ‘woke’ outlook on national identity, national sentiment and immigration now tends to be the more popular view – in contrast to the position a decade or so ago,” the study concluded.
NatCen’s research echoes a 2022 report by the More In Common thinktank. It surveyed 5,000 adults from across the political spectrum and found that a compassionate, ‘live and let live’ attitude prevails on supposedly divisive issues, despite the vitriol swirling around online.