The coalition shouldn't assume that there is no limit to public support for welfare cuts

With the government viewed as out of touch with families on low incomes, the mood could yet turn against austerity.

The government could be making a serious political blunder if it believes that talking tough on 'welfare' is enough for people to be persuaded that it’s "on the side of hardworking people". 

Hot on the heels of news from the latest British Social Attitudes survey that there has been a significant fall in the number of people who believe benefit payments are too high, the Child Poverty Action Group is today publishing YouGov polling showing that the vast majority of the public believe the government is out of touch with families on low incomes and middle incomes.

Despite some of the harshest political rhetoric for years, widely seen as aimed at pitting the hard-pressed ('strivers') against benefit claimants ('skivers'), nearly seven in ten (69%) people think the coalition government does not understand the concerns of people on low incomes. This view is strongly supported by voters of all the main parties in the 2010 election, raising important questions about the limits of public support for the coalition’s cuts to social security. 

Today, the Child Poverty Action Group is launching a campaign asking politicians – of all parties – to forget the stereotypes and remember that benefit claimants are 'People Like Us'.

As part of this, we’re inviting party leaders to watch a film we’re releasing of three ordinary people receiving benefits talking about their concerns. It cannot be right that debates on the reform of the social security system - a major public service after all - have become obse ssed with misleading stereotypes, which have crowded out the reality of who really claims benefits and why they need this support.

It’s only from listening to the experiences of ordinary people that we can have a sensible debate and policies that promote jobs, tackle low pay, promote affordable housing and childcare and help families with the added costs of children. Policies that people want and need.

One of the truths that is regularly obscured by the myths and stereotypes is that the vast majority of claimants have worked, and will work again. If politicians are genuine about getting on side with 'hardworking people' they should talk more about strengthening social security, or the security of family finances, and put a stop to beating up on social security claimants.

Demonstrators hold placards protest against the bedroom tax outside the High Court on 15 May 2013 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

Alison Garnham is chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group

Photo: Getty
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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.