Welfare: no more 'something for nothing'

Sunday, 24 April 2011


A new poll from leading think tank Policy Exchange shows that the public overwhelmingly backs redesigning the welfare system to reward good behaviour and sanction bad. Voters have a strong sense of the deserving and the undeserving poor and also support a cap on child benefits. Exactly two-thirds say that there should be no extra child benefit after the third child. Roughly the same proportion say that the state should discourage people becoming lone parents.

But for people who have found themselves facing hard times through no fault of their own, there still is strong support for a proper safety net.

In a sign that coalition policies have strong support, the study – entitled “Just Deserts?” – finds there is much more backing for cutting tax as a way of creating a fairer society – rather than increasing the size of cash hand-outs. The least popular option to make Britain fairer was to reduce tuition fees and ban private education. The polling comes at a time when the words “fair” and “fairness” have come to dominate political debate.

Other key findings include:

  • 80% agree that anyone who has been out of work for 12 months and is capable of work should have to carry out community work in return for benefits.
  • The most common reason given for unemployment – by 33% of those polled – was that benefits were too generous. Just 14% blamed low wages.
  • Voters think different regimes are appropriate for different groups of claimants. The public would back particularly tough sanctions for drug users, people with criminal records, or those who have claimed benefits several times before. In contrast they would back a particularly “light” sanctions regime for carers or lone parents with dependent children.
  • There is support for stronger work search requirements. The most popular choice across the political spectrum and age groups was the suggestion that jobseekers should spend 3-5 hours a day searching for work.

The public are also strongly sceptical about simply increasing the size of benefit payments as a way of tackling child poverty.

For example, only 7% said that growing up with parents who were low earners would lead to someone experiencing poverty later in their lives. Sixty per cent blamed growing with parents who were drug addicts or alcoholics, 37% blamed a failure to get any qualifications at school and 33% blamed growing up with parents who were unemployed.

Policy Exchange director Neil O’Brien said: “Fairness is a word that is constantly mentioned by politicians at the moment. Our poll shows that the public thinks being fair does not mean handing out money to people whatever the situation. Instead, the public thinks that what you get should depend on your own behaviour.

“The public massively supports tougher conditions for people getting benefits like Jobseeker’s Allowance so they are made to look for work in a much more focused way.

“There is also very strong support for tackling the actual causes of child poverty instead of setting an arbitrary financial figure for the amount of cash a families should have.”

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