Strong public support for benefit cuts

Anthony WellsHead of European Political and Social Research
May 16, 2011, 3:11 AM GMT+0

A new poll for Channel 4 News has found strong public support for many of the Government's planned cuts to benefits.

  • 73% of respondents supported the idea of making the long term unemployed do compulsory work placements or risk losing benefits
  • 66% supported withdrawing jobseekers allowance from people who turn down job offers or interviews
  • 69% supported more stringent testing of people claiming disability living allowance
  • 68% supported capping housing benefit at £400 a week, 'even if this means people are forced to move house if they live in an area where the rent is high'.
  • In all these cases the policies weren't just popular amongst Conservative and Liberal Democrat supporters, they were also backed by a majority of Labour voters.We also asked if people thought the Government should have cut benefits more or less, or had they got the balance about right.
    • 31% thought the Government was cutting too much
    • 58% either thought the balance was right (34%) or would support even larger cuts to benefits (24%).
    These findings are very much in line with our earlier polling after the budget and the spending review, which found high levels of support for capping the total amount of benefits a family could receive, reducing the welfare budget and freezing the working tax credit. While some of the Coalition's planned cuts, such as higher tuition fees, higher VAT, or sending fewer criminals to prison are unpopular, polls inevitably find that cuts to welfare benefits are popular.This doesn't necessarily mean cutting benefits is politically an easy option for the Government though. Firstly, the cuts have not yet taken place, and when they do come into effect there are likely to be many media reports of individuals losing homes or facing financial difficulties which could turn public opinion away from the cuts.There is also a risk that while individual cuts are popular, it will play into a broader image that the coalition are cutting spending in an unfair manner, or are interested only in helping the rich and don't care about less well off people. Our regular tracker of whether people think the government's cuts are being done fairly or unfairly has shown an increasing perception that savings are not being found in a fair way.<./p>
    • Straight after the budget in June 45% of people thought the cuts were being carried out fairly
    • 34% unfairly.
    • In our latest polling 37% thought they were fair, but 50% unfair.
    In our trackers of how people see the parties, the Conservatives are increasingly seen as being prepared to take tough and unpopular decisions (59% thought this description applied best to the Conservatives in our last poll), but they are also seen as 'appealing to one section of society rather than to the whole country'.However, opposing benefit cuts also carries risks for the Labour opposition. At the simplest level, the benefit cuts themselves are very popular, but even if that changes with time there is also a risk to Labour's image. In polling for the Policy Network earlier this year we found people already perceived the Labour party as being closest to the trade unions, benefit claimants and immigrants. If the Conservatives need to worry about still being seen as a party that cares only for the rich, Labour need to beware of potential middle class Labour voters seeing the party as one only for the dispossessed and poor.