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Living Apart, Losing Sympathy? How Neighbourhood Context Affects Attitudes To Redistribution And To Welfare Recipients

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Abstract
Rising levels of income inequality have been directly linked to rising levels of spatial segregation. In this paper we explore whether rising segregation may in turn erode support for the redistributive policies of the welfare state, further increasing levels of inequality—a form of positive feedback. The role of the neighbourhood has been neglected in attitudes research but, building on both political geography and ‘neighbourhood effects’ literatures, we theorise that neighbourhood context may shape attitudes through the transmission of attitudes directly and through the accumulation of relevant knowledge. We test this through multilevel modelling of data from England on individual attitudes to redistribution in general and to welfare benefit recipients in particular. We show that the individual factors shaping these attitudes are quite different and that the influence of neighbourhood context also varies as a result. The findings support the idea that neighbourhood context shapes attitudes, with the knowledge accumulation mechanism likely to be the more important. Rising spatial segregation would appear to erode support for redistribution but to increase support for welfare recipients—at least in a context where the dominant media discourse presents such a stigmatising image of those on welfare benefits.

Abstract

Rising levels of income inequality have been directly linked to rising levels of spatial segregation. In this paper we explore whether rising segregation may in turn erode support for the redistributive policies of the welfare state, further increasing levels of inequality—a form of positive feedback. The role of the neighbourhood has been neglected in attitudes research but, building on both political geography and ‘neighbourhood effects’ literatures, we theorise that neighbourhood context may shape attitudes through the transmission of attitudes directly and through the accumulation of relevant knowledge. We test this through multilevel modelling of data from England on individual attitudes to redistribution in general and to welfare benefit recipients in particular. We show that the individual factors shaping these attitudes are quite different and that the influence of neighbourhood context also varies as a result. The findings support the idea that neighbourhood context shapes attitudes, with the knowledge accumulation mechanism likely to be the more important. Rising spatial segregation would appear to erode support for redistribution but to increase support for welfare recipients—at least in a context where the dominant media discourse presents such a stigmatising image of those on welfare benefits.