Labour shadow ministers have been piling into the argument over the three year squeeze on working-age benefits, which will limit their rise to just 1 per cent rather than inflation as normally happens.
Ed Balls is at it again today in a piece for PoliticsHome, in which he says:
Two-thirds of people who will be hit by David Cameron and George Osborne’s real terms cuts to tax credits and benefits are in work.
The tactic is in marked contrast to their approach to the overall benefit cap, which they said they would have backed if it had been set on a regional basis, which was in effect a way of opposing it without being explicit about their opposition.
This time, the Labour leadership is more confident about its stance. Although surveys show the government’s move is popular, two polls have stiffened the opposition’s resolve. The first was revealed by Isabel Hardman at the Spectator’s Coffee House blog, who wrote that internal Labour polling showed the squeeze was unpopular with voters lower down the social scale.
The second is published today by YouGov on behalf of the TUC. It finds that when voters are told that the 1 per cent cap on rises will affect low-paid workers, support for the measure falls steeply from 54 per cent to 32 per cent.
The poll also finds that the public is largely ignorant about how the welfare bill is spent in several key ways, including:
- On average, people think that 41 per cent of welfare spending goes to the unemployed. The actual figure is 3 per cent (most goes on pensions).
- On average, people think 27 per cent of benefits are claimed fraudulently. The government’s figure is 0.7 per cent.
- On average, people think that an unemployed couple with two school-aged children would get £147 a week in jobseeker’s allowance. The actual figure is £111.45.
Interestingly, support for the government’s crackdown on welfare falls noticeably among those who are better informed about these figures. Some 53 per cent of people in the least accurate third of respondents feel benefits are too generous, while only 31 per cent in the most accurate third do.
Given these findings, Labour has two tasks if it is to wrest back the initiative in the increasingly bitter debate over welfare: tell voters what the real figures are and remind them that working people get benefits too.