Is welfare 25 or 6 per cent of government spending? Photo: Getty
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People only think welfare should be cut because the coalition is misleading them

The public’s appetite for benefits cuts collapses when voters are offered a more accurate measure of “welfare”.

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Should benefits be cut? The coalition has published tax transparency documents which suggest the government spends 25 per cent of taxpayer money on “welfare”.

When the public are told this, 4 in 10 voters they think benefits are too high. That is more than think them either about right or too low.

This could be used to endorse the Tories’ rumoured plans to cut welfare if re-elected, but the figures have been criticised as disingenuous by the Institute for Fiscal Studies – the authority on every attempt by governments to fudge numbers.

They suggest only 6 per cent of spending is on the “unemployed”. This is what we commonly think of as welfare. Indeed, when the public are presented with the IFS’ more detailed figures on “welfare” spending, public support for cutting benefits collapses.

When offered the IFS figures, the public are equally divided between whether benefits are too high, too low, or about right.

But how do people’s backgrounds shape their views? The most anti-benefits age group isn’t the young or the old, it’s those of ripe working age: the 25-39 year olds. Even when presented with the IFS data, nearly twice as many of these workers think benefits are too high rather than too low.

So do the richest – by 37 to 22 per cent, those classed as “ABC1” think benefits are too high. In contrast, C2DE voters go from thinking benefits are too high to too low when handed the government’s and then the IFS’ figures.

Finally, men and Tories are unstintingly anti-welfare. So richer Tory men of working age are the least likely to sympathise with those of benefits. That happens to all but fit the profile of the man behind the plans. George Osborne is now 43 and falls just outside the most anti-welfare age bracket, but is still white, wealthier and Tory.


May2015 is the New Statesman's new elections site. Explore it for data, interviews and ideas on the general election.

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Michael Gove definitely didn't betray anyone, says Michael Gove

What's a disagreement among friends?

Michael Gove is certainly not a traitor and he thinks Theresa May is absolutely the best leader of the Conservative party.

That's according to the cast out Brexiteer, who told the BBC's World At One life on the back benches has given him the opportunity to reflect on his mistakes. 

He described Boris Johnson, his one-time Leave ally before he decided to run against him for leader, as "phenomenally talented". 

Asked whether he had betrayed Johnson with his surprise leadership bid, Gove protested: "I wouldn't say I stabbed him in the back."

Instead, "while I intially thought Boris was the right person to be Prime Minister", he later came to the conclusion "he wasn't the right person to be Prime Minister at that point".

As for campaigning against the then-PM David Cameron, he declared: "I absolutely reject the idea of betrayal." Instead, it was a "disagreement" among friends: "Disagreement among friends is always painful."

Gove, who up to July had been a government minister since 2010, also found time to praise the person in charge of hiring government ministers, Theresa May. 

He said: "With the benefit of hindsight and the opportunity to spend some time on the backbenches reflecting on some of the mistakes I've made and some of the judgements I've made, I actually think that Theresa is the right leader at the right time. 

"I think that someone who took the position she did during the referendum is very well placed both to unite the party and lead these negotiations effectively."

Gove, who told The Times he was shocked when Cameron resigned after the Brexit vote, had backed Johnson for leader.

However, at the last minute he announced his candidacy, and caused an infuriated Johnson to pull his own campaign. Gove received just 14 per cent of the vote in the final contest, compared to 60.5 per cent for May. 


Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.