Govt relying on ignorance to support benefit cuts – survey

TUC says YouvGov survey suggests support for government overhaul of benefits is 'based on prejudice and ignorance'. It comes as Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith says value of benefits should no longer rise in line with inflation.
by - 4th January 2013, 9.30 GMT

Ministers cannot assume voters will continue to back plans to cap welfare benefit rises, after a survey found people who know least about benefits are most likely to back financial cuts.

The poll, commissioned by the TUC from YouGov, suggests that once people learn the likely impact of the benefit cap on workers in low-paid jobs, support moves away from the government.

The TUC says the poll, carried out in the run-up to Christmas, found widespread ignorance about spending on welfare, the reality of unemployment, the generosity of benefits and the level of fraud.

General secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘It is not surprising that voters want to get tough on welfare.

“They think the system is much more generous than it is in reality, is riddled with fraud and is heavily skewed towards helping the unemployed, who they think are far more likely to stay on the dole than is actually the case.

“Indeed if what the average voter thinks was true, I’d want tough action too.

‘But you should not conduct policy, particularly when it hits some of the most vulnerable people in society, on the basis of prejudice and ignorance.

“And it is plainly immoral to spread such prejudice purely for party gain, as ministers and their advisers are doing, by deliberately misleading people about the value of benefits and who gets them.

‘Voters who have a better grasp of how benefits work and what people actually get, oppose the government’s plans.

“When people learn more about benefits, support moves away from coalition policy.

“Some ministers seem to see the benefit up-rating cap as a party political trap, but to counter that all you need to do is expose what the proposals really mean.

‘The truth remains that benefits are far from generous, the vast majority of the jobless are desperate for work and most benefit spending goes either on pensions or on benefits for those in jobs or who aren’t able to work.’

The TUC poll reveals many misconceptions about welfare and benefit spending including:

On average, people think 41% of the entire welfare budget goes on benefits to unemployed people, while the true figure is 3%.

On average, people think 27% of the welfare budget is claimed fraudulently; the government’s own figure is 0.7%.

On average, people think almost half those (48%) who claim Jobseeker’s Allowance go on to claim it for more than a year, while the true figure is just under 30% (27.8%).

On average, people think that an unemployed couple with two school-age children would get £147 in Jobseeker’s Allowance – more than 30% higher than the £111.45 they would actually receive – a £35 over-calculation.

Only 21% of people think this family with two school-age children would be better off if one of the unemployed parents got a 30 hour a week minimum wage job, even though they would actually end up £138 a week better off. Even those who thought they would be better off only thought on average they would gain by £59.

The poll confirms widespread hostile attitudes to welfare – with more than 40% believing benefits are too generous and 59% agreeing the current welfare system has created a culture of dependency.

However, the TUC says analysis of the poll results shows those who know least about welfare are the most hostile.

More than half (53%) of those who gave the least accurate answers believe benefits are too generous, while fewer than a third (31%) in the group who gave the most accurate answers agree that they are.

Nearly three in four (71%) of the least accurate group think welfare has created a culture of dependency which falls to fewer than half (46%) among those with the best knowledge.

The final question in the poll asked people about how benefits should generally change each year. Only 25% said they should go up less than wages or prices, with 63% wanting them linked to wages, prices or both.