The TUC report which was splashed across the front page of The Independent yesterday shows that the Tory’s benefit bashing obsession may yet unravel as the impact of the vicious welfare cuts becomes increasingly visible.
The report (which can be accessed here) reveals that those who are most critical of the welfare state also seem to be those who know least about it. They are also quite likely to be Tory voters. This is not an uncommon phenomena – those who are most critical of the so called soft sentences handed out in the criminal justice system have also been observed to significantly under-estimate the severity of court sentences.
But the survey also shows very real support for the welfare state. The first question asks whether benefits are too generous. Whilst 69% of Tories agreed they were, amongst all those surveyed 46% said they were about right or not enough. This compared to 42% overall who claimed they were too generous – which overlapped significantly with those who over-estimated how much benefits are worth.
The answers also reveal that Osborne’s latest cap, which pegs annual benefit rises at 1%, is far from popular once people are made aware of who will really suffer. At first glance the news seems encouraging for the Tories. 48% of people support the cap, against 32% who oppose – although that support is strong in just one in five people.
But in a major blow for the new policy it is then revealed that 64% of people surveyed think this measure will mostly affect people who are unemployed.
40% of respondents opposed capping benefits for those who are working, with just 30% in support. Yet this is exactly what Osborne is doing. This Government are attacking the working poor every bit as much as they are attacking those without jobs.
Unhelpfully the TUC have announced this survey with the claim that “Support for benefit cuts dependent on ignorance”. Whilst it’s difficult to disagree with that statement based on the survey results, attitudes won’t be changed by calling people stupid. And all too often people haven’t been stupid. They have been systematically lied to by both the media and (more importantly) all three political parties.
When George Osborne spoke of the striver, getting up to work whilst his benefit scrounging neighbour stayed in bed, few would have understood that Osborne intended to slash both their incomes. When senior figures of all parties have ranted incessantly about the benefits system being out of control then it’s hardly surprising that most people don’t realise that just 3% of welfare spending is spent on unemployment benefits.
And when both Iain Duncan Smith and David Cameron have lied time and time again about families being better off on benefits, then it is hardly surprising that over 50% of people think that someone is worse off by taking a job. This deliberate untruth has permeated the debate so much that many Tories believe someone with kids taking a minimum wage job would be £86 a week worse off than they were on benefits, when in fact they would be around £139 a week better off.
Now fair enough some Tories are stupid. But most normal people aren’t, and this shows the government are taking a dangerous gamble. Support for welfare cuts is far from unanimous, and mostly comes from those who have swallowed the Government’s lies about claimants living a life of luxury. When sleeping bags start to once more to line the High Streets of city centres then people will start to question those lies. When foodbanks and child poverty hit the headlines again and again – as they will over the rest of this Parliament – then the myth that the UK’s benefits system is in any way generous will be demolished. And then people will know they’ve been lied to, and that those lies have cost lives.
Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid