Job Centre Plus 2013
British Social Attitudes Survey revealed people have more sympathy for the unemployed (Reuters)

Sympathy for the unemployed has grown in the UK, according to the 2013 British Attitudes Survey.

The research, which interviewed 3,248 adults and was conducted by NatCen Social Research, found that there has been a swing in public attitudes towards welfare.

The 30th report of its kind revealed that people who view benefits for unemployed people as being "too high and discourage work" fell to 51% in 2012, down from 62% in 2011.

There has also been a five percentage point increase since 2011 in the view that cutting benefits "would damage too many people's lives", with 47% of respondents holding this view.

In addition, 34% of people support more spending on benefits, even if it means higher taxes, up from 28% in 2011.

The research demonstrated that hard times may also be softening people's views about unemployment.

In the five years prior to the financial crisis and subsequent recession, around two-thirds of people felt that the unemployed could find a job if they really wanted one.

This fell from 68% in 2008 to 55% in 2009, and stood at 54% in 2012.

The findings came just days after a National Audit Office (NAO) report, called Universal Credit: Early Progress, found that the coalition government's implementation of the major welfare scheme was poorly planned, managed and resourced.

"The survey shows that the nation has become much more cynical about the welfare state and benefit recipients, but austerity seems to be beginning to soften the public mood," said Alison Park, head of society and social change at NatCen Social Research.

"It's also clear that on some issues the public are very divided in their views.

"It remains to be seen what impact the coalition government's welfare reform agenda will have on public attitudes, and whether the small recent upturn in sympathy marks the beginning of a longer term trend."

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesman added: "It is understandable that people's attitudes to welfare have changed over the last 15 years.

"The system was allowed to develop to the point that benefits could provide a lifestyle out of reach from many hard-working families and for some the incentive to work was limited.

"There is clear public support for our benefit reforms and we are continuing our work to restore the welfare state."