Anti-poverty campaigners have thrown down the gauntlet to the government to increase action on poverty and inequality in the wake of a new report.
The survey, conducted by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Fabian Society, found that, while there was an increased antipathy towards the super-rich, wider attitudes to the income gap had not changed and that "deserved inequalities" were perceived by the majority to be fair.
The authors also found that attitudes towards those on low incomes and benefits were frequently more negative than towards the rich, with the archaic concept of "deserving" and "undeserving" poor still prevalent.
The authors state: "Many participants exhibited strongly judgemental attitudes towards people on out-of-work benefits, motivated by beliefs about the ready availability of opportunity and beliefs that those claiming benefits now will not necessarily make a future contribution back to society."
Almost all of those surveyed saw themselves as middle-class, regardless of actual income, and tended to think of the income gap as being between the middle and the top, disregarding the low-paid and those on benefits.
Despite this, there was a "strong underlying support" for a progressive taxation system
Commenting on the report, Eileen Devaney of the UK Campaign Against Poverty said: "What really hit me was the view that there is fair inequality. This was a very strong belief, as was the fact that almost everyone put themselves in the middle in terms of income.
"Many also thought that people earning obscene amounts of money probably deserved it. They also believed that these people were more likely to contribute to society than those on benefits or low incomes."
More communication on the issue was urgently required to build support and awareness of the need to end inequality and poverty, she argued, while TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said that more needed to be done.
"We need to begin a process of forceful enlightenment with regard to social prejudice and discrimination against people in poverty. A task for organisations, but also one that faces us as individuals," he stated.
"Many of us will remember the first time we acted out the principle of 'never let a racist comment go unchallenged.' Perhaps we need to take that first step next time we hear a joke about 'chavs'."
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