The latest British Social Attitudes Report has found that the percentage of those questioned who thought benefits were too high now stands at 51 per cent – down from 62 per cent in 2011.
According to the NatCen Social Research survey, sympathy for those without jobs has increased and support for benefit cuts has fallen.
The proportion of respondents believing that benefit cuts damage people's lives rose to 47 per cent in 2012, from 42 per cent in 2011.
Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has strongly condemned those who appear to have manipulated the system to gain as many benefits as possible. But the survey suggests that British people now have less sympathy with this view.
The proportion of those found to be supportive of extra spending on benefits rose to 34 per cent in 2012, compared with 28 per cent in 2011.
The authors of the report say their data indicated that "austerity and the experience of cuts to social security may be changing public attitudes towards a more sympathetic view of benefit claimants".
Alison Park, head of society and social change at NatCen emphasised that the public was "very divided in their views".
"It remains to be seen what impact the coalition government's welfare reform agenda will have on public attitudes, and whether the small recent upturn in sympathy marks the beginning of a longer term trend", she said.
The British Social Attitudes survey asks over 3,000 people annually what life is like in Britain and how they think Britain is run. Since 1983 the survey has been tracking changing social, political and moral attitudes. It informs the development of public policy and is an important barometer of public attitudes used by opinion leaders and social commentators.