The Benefit System, Welfare to Work

Opinion on welfare

Opinion on welfare

A wide-reaching raft of welfare reforms took effect recently leading to a number of polls examining how much the British public supported them and understood them. Polling also shows that support is part of a long-term trend, though the future is uncertain.

Initial polls suggest that the British public support many of the specific government policies. Ipsos-Mori found that 84% support stricter testing for incapacity benefits and 78% want job seekers who refuse job offers to face sanctions[1]. YouGov has found that 77% support cutting child benefit to households where a parent earns more than £60,000 a year and 74% support a benefits cap of £26,000. However, YouGov has also found that other policies are more mixed, 45-35% voters back limiting benefit increases to 1% and 43-32% voters oppose the proposal to not allow under-25 year olds claiming child benefit[2]. A series of ComRes polls about the Under Occupancy Penalty/Bedroom tax (previously written about here) have also found it to be controversial[3]. However, there is also evidence that awareness among the public on the size of welfare fraud and the size of certain benefits is very low. A poll by the Trades Union Congress suggested that the public perceived 41% of the welfare budget being spent on unemployed people (3% is) and 27% is claimed fraudulently (0.7% is estimated to be)[4].

Such attitudes cannot be attributed to short-term factors, such as cutting the deficit. The British Social Attitudes survey has recorded British attitudes to the welfare state since 1983. Figure 1.2 shows that the proportion of the public supporting spending more on welfare on a long-term decline, from 61% in 1989 to less than just 28% in 2011[5].

However, this does not necessarily mean that the public shall continue to support welfare cuts. The most popular proposal on the BSA survey in Figure 1.1 is to keep taxes and spending the same, whereas the proposal to reduce taxes and spend less on welfare is a distant third[5]. ComRes polls also show that a plurality of the public support increasing welfare spending (43%) though a majority combined support either freezing (29%) or cutting welfare (27%). Moreover, welfare spending is placed at a lower priority than the NHS, education or Police[6]. Within Cabinet, Iain Duncan Smith and Danny Alexander have expressed opposition to further welfare cuts[7].

  •  Will this have a big impact on the next election?
  • Will Labour continue to oppose welfare reform until the next election?
  • Will the British public continue to oppose higher welfare spending?

 By Will Archdeacon



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