Increased support for issues such as euthanasia and divorce mark the UK as one of the most socially liberal countries, a new study has suggested.
Data from the Policy Institute at King’s College London (KCL) found that UK attitudes on suicide had also changed over time.
Attitudes are relatively less liberal on the death penalty, with more people viewing it as justifiable than comparable nations, the findings suggested.
KCL collated data from an international survey conducted across the past four decades, and found that the share of the British public who think euthanasia is justifiable more than doubled between 1981 and 2022.
Support for ‘euthanasia’ has increased significantly, from 20% in 1981 to 47% now— Bobby Duffy, Policy Institute, KCL
When compared with 24 other countries, Germany, Australia, and France were the only nations where a greater proportion of the population believed euthanasia justifiable.
Attitudes towards assisted dying in Britain have changed gradually since data was first collected in 1981, but there was a clear acceleration in acceptance between 2009 and 2022, when the proportion of the British public who found it justifiable rose by around 20%.
Professor Bobby Duffy, director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London, said: “Support for ‘euthanasia’ has increased significantly, from 20% in 1981 to 47% now.
“Assisted dying is, of course, still illegal in the UK, but it is seen as much more acceptable by the UK public than other illegal behaviours asked about in the study.”
This attitude shift comes alongside a rise in the number of British members of Dignitas. The assisted dying association reported that there had been an 80% rise in British members in the past decade, from 821 in 2012, to 1,528 by the end of 2022.
Suicide was seen as “justifiable” – in the wording of the polling – by a relatively small minority of the UK population, although that minority has nonetheless grown from 6% to 18% between 1981 to 2022.
The UK had the second highest proportion of people who believed suicide was justifiable, just below France, at 19%. Other European countries ranked much lower on this issue, with Italy at 9%, and Greece at 2%.
The UK also ranked highly for acceptance towards divorce, as 68% of Britons said it is justifiable.
A breakdown of UK nations showed that on the topic of divorce, Scotland and Wales were the most accepting with 67% support, and Northern Ireland the least, as only 48% of respondents said divorce was justifiable.
The one issue towards which the UK as a whole held less socially liberal views was the death penalty, as one-in-five of UK respondents thought capital punishment justifiable.
Various other Western nations such as Greece, Italy, Germany, and Norway are much less likely to feel this way, with around seven-in-ten or more people saying the death penalty is not justifiable, according to KCL.
British respondents were twice as likely to answer that the death penalty is justifiable if they said they would vote Conservative at the next election, with just 16% of Labour voters agreeing that it was justifiable.
The issue of the death penalty was recently highlighted by deputy chairman Lee Anderson, who told Nadine Dorries on TalkTV last month that be believed “millions of Conservative voters” support it.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak noted after Mr Anderson’s comments that neither he, nor the Government, shared that view.