It is no secret that public support for the UK’s welfare state is in long-term decline. Generation Strains provides the definitive analysis of this phenomenon. It explores the underlying reasons why support for welfare is in decline and whether views are shifting from one generation to the next. Incorporating findings from the British Social Attitudes Survey as well as cross-generational workshops, the results suggest that the different generations have considerably more in common than meets the eye.

This report finds that age does play a role: the youngest generation is most sceptical of the welfare state, while the oldest generation is the most proud and most likely to support further spending on it. However, the report also finds a remarkable degree of cross-generational solidarity, and a common motivation for any difference in views: all cohorts want the system to benefit those who have contributed and those in most desperate need.

This is a pressing question for politicians of all stripes and will undoubtedly be a key battleground in the 2015 election. The report argues that welfare states remain vital to achieving a range of public policy goals, from protecting people against risks outside their control to reducing poverty. However, welfare institutions must maintain public legitimacy if they are to be sustained over time. Generation Strains concludes that renewing the reciprocal deal seems a necessary step if the welfare system is to earn greater public support in the future.