Is welfare the new political divide?

Is welfare the new political divide?

What are the dangers in getting tough?

Maybe I’m being unfair to suggest that there is perhaps nothing that pleases Daily Mail readers more than reading headlines like this morning’s about the efforts to tighten up on who should receive the £95-a-week Employment and Support Allowance – which is replacing incapacity benefit.

Phrases like “weeding out the work-shy” are powerful and resonate, surely with the audience.

The Mail highlights new statistics showing that 640,000 out of about 840,000 who applied were told they were fit for work, or withdrew their applications before they took the tests – indicating, according to the paper, that they were ‘trying it on’.

Trials are taking place in two locations to assess existing recipients of incapacity benefits to see if their weekly payments should continue.

The prize for George Osborne is massive – if the same ratio applied with the old benefit then the annual bill could be reduced from £12.5bn a year to about £4bn.

That’s fine – but what are the political risks? Isn’t a tightening up going to throw up difficult hard cases and could the government be vulnerable because of the involvement of a private contractor?

What post-CSR polling data there is suggests that whilst a majority are concerned that overall the measures are unfair there is public support for a welfare clamp-down – but there is a sharp divide based on people’s political allegiance. This is from YouGov.

Cutting £7bn a year from welfare All voters CON voters LAB voters LD voters
Support 57 83 33 65
Oppose 31 9 55 19
12 month time limit on employment & support allowance All voters CON voters LAB voters LD voters
Support 57 80 37 64
Oppose 29 11 50 22

The contrast on both questions between the responses of Labour voters and Tory ones is extraordinary. Interestingly the Lib Dem voters in the group were taking a pretty tough view.

  • The overnight daily poll from YouGov for News International had CON 40%: LAB 38%: LD 12%.
  • Mike Smithson

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