Benefits cap 'unfair and a big political risk for the government'

By staff writers
January 10, 2013

New Trades Union Congress (TUC) General Secretary Frances O'Grady says that the welfare benefits up-rating cap is unfair and a big political risk for the government.

The first woman to head the umbrella body for trade unions commented: "Ministers think that the benefits up-rating cap will bring them a political dividend that is as effective at delivering votes as it is in reducing the living standards of millions of people on low to middle incomes.

"But as a new TUC-commissioned YouGov poll shows, support for the measure depends on voter ignorance. Those with the most inaccurate view of the current system are the most likely to support change. Those who know the most are more likely to oppose the cap."

Ms O'Grady continued: "As people discover the effect of the cap and child benefit freeze at a time when wages are failing to keep up with inflation, voters are bound to want to punish the government."

"Our poll shows that three times as many people (64 per cent) think the cap mainly applies to unemployed people as people in work (21 per cent) - and that they oppose a cap on benefits for low paid workers by 40 per cent to 30 per cent," she said.

"As people discover the truth about the effects of the policy - and that the majority of those affected are in work - then the cap will backfire on the government.

"But people's support for a cap on benefits for the jobless is based on the myth that they are generous. Indeed the long term value of benefits for the jobless has fallen. If a single person's Jobseekers' Allowance was at the same share of average earnings today as it was when Mrs Thatcher left office it would be worth £86 a week - over a fifth more than the amount today's jobless get (£71).

"Hardly anyone in work today can say that they and every member of their family could not lose their job. That's why we need a proper unemployment benefit as part of our national insurance system. We all pay in so that we can get very modest support if the worst happens," said the TUC chief.

As reported previously on Ekklesia, the YouGov poll reveals many public misconceptions about welfare and benefit spending, including:

* On average people think that 41 per cent of the entire welfare budget goes on benefits to unemployed people, while the true figure is 3 per cent.
* On average people think that 27 per cent of the welfare budget is claimed fraudulently, while the government's own figure is 0.7 per cent.

When the poll sample is divided into three equal groups based on how accurately they answered the poll questions that tested knowledge of the benefits system, those who know the least about welfare are the most hostile. More than half (53 per cent) of those in the least accurate group think that benefits are too generous, while less than a third (31 per cent) in the group who gave the most accurate answers agree that they are.

When asked whether they support the government's proposed one per cent cap on benefits there is an overall clear majority support across everyone questioned (48 per cent to 32 per cent), though those with the best knowledge of the benefits system oppose the government's actions 45 to 41 per cent.

But a big three-to-one majority of the general sample (64 to 21 per cent) think that the benefit cap will mainly hit the unemployed. When told the cap will affect low-paid workers, majority support for the cap turns into majority opposition (40 to 30 per cent). There is a sharp fall among those with the least knowledge from 54 per cent backing the cap before being told about low-paid workers' benefits, to 32 per cent afterwards.

[Ekk/3]

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