People in Britain expect the welfare state to disappear over the next 50 years, according to a MORI survey for right-wing think-tank the Adam Smith Institute.

Forty-six per cent of those questioned for the poll in July predicted the end of a society that promises support from cradle to grave, with only 8 per cent saying it would remain. The same poll found that only 4 per cent of those questioned thought a state-run health service would be so good that no-one would want to go private in 50 years.

Men, higher-income groups and broadsheet newspaper readers were more likely to think this than women, lower social groups and middlemarket or tabloid readers.

A commentary on the survey suggests that women rate the NHS less highly than men because 'they have occasion to make more use of it, and thus have more experience of what it is like'.

It also suggests the greater support for the NHS among higher income groups is because the 'articulate middle classes are very adept at using the system and tend to obtain better services in health as in education'. The authors of Facing the Future, Madsen Pirie and Robert Worcester, note the findings are startling, given the major role the welfare state has played in most people's lives.

They say that the end of the welfare state would 'represent a major change in social organisation'.

On the other hand, they point out that in 1950, few people would have expected private schools to continue.