British society is regressing back to Victorian times in its views of the poor and unemployed, according to Sheffield University academics.
Research by the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute has found people are becoming increasingly intolerant towards disadvantaged groups - and even the disabled.
The study discovered there is a growing sense that unemployment is caused by individuals’ personal failings, rather than by problems in the economy.
People tend to believe that work is plentiful, and that unemployment was therefore a lifestyle choice with poverty resulting from moral deficiencies.
SPERI said it found an alarming intolerance towards disabled people, with many questioning the legitimacy of benefits for those deemed incapable of working.
Researchers found both middle class and working class people still used the term ‘chav’ to validate and re-affirm their own superior social position.
Report author Professor Gill Valentine said: “We appear to be witnessing the re-emergence of traditional distinctions between the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor, associated with the Victorian era.
“The evidence is mounting that the Coalition government’s austerity agenda has been targeted at the poorest groups in society rather than the most affluent.
“This research shows that this is reinforcing prejudicial and intolerant attitudes towards the most disadvantaged members of society, as the government has been successful in individualising the causes of poverty and unemployment, and marginalising the socio-economic determinants of hardship.”
Misplaced fears and prejudices presented a threat to social cohesion, she added.