Comment: George Osborne is partly right

Peter KellnerPresident
July 20, 2015, 9:32 AM UTC

George Osborne is partly right that Labour voters support his welfare measures

Later today MPs will debate the Government’s welfare plans. Labour is divided over how to react, and the Chancellor has rubbed salt in Labour’s wounds by praising Harriet Harman’s decision not to oppose his bill. Labour voters, says Osborne, back his measures.

He is partly right. Immediately after the Budget YouGov tested a number of Osborne’s policies. The table below shows the results. Not surprisingly, Labour voters, like most others, back the increase in the tax allowance and the uprating of the minimum wage. But there is also widespread support among Labour voters for limiting child tax credits in future to two children per family, and lowering the cap on total benefits to £23,000 a year in London and £20,000 a year outside London.

However, most Labour voters dislike the plans to stop people under 21 from claiming housing benefit and – the big one, in terms of the amount of money it would save – keeping benefits for working people at the present level rather than letting them rise with inflation. By even bigger margins, Labour voters reject the 1% limit on public sector pay rises, and scrapping maintenance grants for poorer students. 

These findings fit a pattern that has been visible for some years. Most voters, and especially Labour voters, draw a distinction between support for workers and students, on the basis that they are helping the economy to grow and improving their own prospects, and support for working-age people who are not in work and/or subsidies for people who choose to have large families.

Whether this subjective distinction between ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ welfare recipients is morally right, socially just or economically wise is an important, but separate issue. If politicians choose to invoke public opinion in support of their position, they should take care to understand it properly.

See the full poll results