One of the assumptions commonly made in the current debate over welfare is that the public are on the government’s side. George Osborne’s plan to cap benefit increases at 1 per cent for the next three years is viewed as a vote winner for the Tories, with Labour’s opposition to it viewed as a vote loser. But a new poll by Ipsos MORI suggests this may not be the case. Asked how much benefits should rise by, 59 per cent said they should increase in line with inflation, 10 per cent said they should rise by more than inflation, 16 per cent should they should rise by less than inflation (the government’s policy) and just 11 per cent said they should not rise at all (an option considered by Osborne but vetoed by the Lib Dems). Thus, in total, 69 per cent believe that benefits should increase in line with inflation or more.
The poll contrasts with an earlier survey by YouGov, which found that 52 per cent believe Osborne was right to increase benefits by 1 per cent, with 35 per cent opposed. What explains the discrepancy? One difference is that MORI’s question, unlike YouGov’s, named specific benefits – Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support and Child Benefit – that would be affected by the policy, something that is likely to have increased opposition to it.
Ahead of next month’s vote on the Welfare Uprating Bill, the discovery that voters do not inevitably side with Osborne should have the effect of stiffening Labour’s resolve. Provided that it continues to make the case against the bill in reasoned terms, not least by pointing out that more than 60 per cent of those families affected are in work, the argument can be won. Indeed, MORI’s poll suggests that it may have been won already.