YouGov’s daily poll for the Sun got people hugely excited over the headline figure of 83% backing the child benefit changes last night – but the actual story is more nuanced than that.

The principle of limiting child child benefit so people on higher incomes don’t receive it is hugely popular, with 83% of people supporting it and only 15% opposed. However, that question was about the principle of the policy. YouGov then asked about the practicalities of the policy, and the way that a couple both earning £30k would keep child benefit, while a couple where only one worked and earned £44k would not. 41% of people agreed that this was a fair compromise given the cost of fully means testing child benefit, but 46% thought it was unfair and that the policy should be based on a proper means-test. So the principle of the policy is extremely popular, but people are split over the implementation of it.

I’ve seen a lot of assumptions that the 15% who oppose it is the 15% or so of people who will be directly affected, it’s a lazy assumption that almost certainly isn’t true. Look at the cross breaks of any poll and you’ll find people do not vote nearly as much with their pocketbooks as you’d think. Obviously in most cases people who suffer from a policy are more likely to oppose it and people who benefit from it are more likely to support it, but it is rarely if ever black and white. There aren’t income cross breaks in the table, but looking at the other cross breaks, 21% of Labour supporters oppose the idea, compared to 9% of Conservative supporters. 18% of ABC1s oppose it, but so do 10% of C2DEs.

416 Responses to “83% support limiting child benefit, BUT…”

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  1. Ah, this explains it, I went to bed last night baffled by this poll.

    I think the Tories have made an error by reacting so swiftly to the criticism about this policy: there is an argument that they can clearly win by stating that high earners do not deserve to receive child benefits.

    This poll shows that the Mail, Express and Telegraph react to public opinion rather than shaping it, and they’ve all called it wrong.

    But by now talking about bringing in a costly marriage allowance to compensate for this measure makes it much harder for the Tories to now win that argument; it shows that they’re just as interested in favourable newspaper headlines as the previous government was.

  2. I also cant remember the last time the Tories were higher than 43 in a YouGov poll.

    Surely Mr Coulson and Mr Cameron, it’s not a coincidence that on the first day the Tories receive a barrage of press criticism for ages, it is also the first day that the Tories receive a boost in the polls.

  3. Perhaps there should have been the option “Is this acceptable as a short term fix to get the economy out of the mire, provided a long term solution is neater and fairer”. That may have been popular

  4. Or maybe people are reacting to the press coverage about these cuts in child benefits.

    Even with the 41% who thought it was a good compromise could easily translate into higher poll ratings.

    could be a bad horse to back for labour

  5. I think the large measure of support for the principle was very important for GO.

    Without that, the whole “fairness” agenda collapses.

    The reasonable balance for/against the detailed implementation is also not too bad from Cons point of view . given the dramatic effects at the margin which means testing produces.

    There is time to rethink some of the detail-and who knows-maybe CB will end up inside IDS’ Universal Benefit, where it can be tapered away in a more gentle fashion.

    Meanwhile Cons can be pleased with this reaction-and it demonstrates that it was unneccessary for DC to let Robinson badger him into implying that a transferable marriage tax break might “compensate”.

    They should have waited for this Poll & claimed majority acceptance of the principle today , whilst conceding more work on implementation.

  6. 86% support for benefit capping too!

    ……..Which has received no Press comment whatsoever. !

  7. Colin

    “86% support for benefit capping too!

    ……..Which has received no Press comment whatsoever. !”

    could be better that way….the more people see the media strongly disagree with this, the more they are likely to continue opposing it and trusting the coalition.

  8. This must the first ever benefit cut of all time where the CDEs are less oposed to it than the ABCs (or more supportive, depending on how you look at it). I can think of several superlatives to elucidate upon that point but I wont. For now, it just feels very good to witness the shoe on the other foot.

  9. @\Colin Green – “Is this acceptable as a short term fix…?”

    The commentariat (Telegraph and Observer columnists on Today) at least are seeing it as a ‘wobble’ from Cameron… in other words, ‘fairness for all’ is translating into ‘this will be unfair for everyone’.

  10. The question that attracted 83% of support was this:

    “Universal benefits such as child benefit are currently
    available to all eligible people, regardless of their
    income. The government have announced that from 2013
    they will end child benefit for people in households
    where someone earns over £44,000.
    In principle, do you support or oppose limiting child
    benefit so that people with high incomes do not receive

    So people support the specific policy and the point at which we measure ‘high income’.

    The disagreement appears to be the decision to allow a couple of breach that through separate incomes, not as was argued for two days the £44k figure itself.

  11. Why “pocketbook”? What’s wrong with “wallet” or “purse”?

  12. @Colin, Bullman – “… no Press comment whatsoever”

    Ok, I didn’t expect that you’d read yesterday’s Guardian, and this will fall beneath the radar to a large extent, but it will bubble away nonetheless.
    Take the established Bengali community in Tower Hamlets, jut one area of inner London where families are being priced out of even the studio-flat bracket.
    This is major upheaval in peoples lives caused by the stroke of a pen.

  13. @Billy Bob

    (un)fairness for all! :)

  14. BillyBob

    It probably will mean upheaval for some people.

    Working people face the search for affordable housing all the time & have to go where it is available .

    I would like a £1m bungalow set in 15acres of woodland, but I can’t afford it.

    Why should a workless family be allowed to remain in accommodation which their working peers could not afford?
    Workless households will still be able to claim £26,000 a year, the equivalent of £35,000 in taxable income.

    How is that unfair?

  15. Re: Benefit / housing benefit caps.

    This seems to me to be assuming that there were no inherent pressures in the system which have led to the present situation.

    So there is no housing crisis? This reminds me of the discussion with Martyn about a supposed inexhaustible supply of sub-125K three bed houses availiable in the South East for the squeezed middle-classes to effortlessly downgrade into.

    We are also assuming that tens of thousands of lower income inner city dwellers will be able to easily relocate further out into the suburbs.
    (To be then told they should relocate back to the city because that is where the jobs are?)

  16. The cross-break I’d be interested in seeing is the childless vs. parents more than different economic groupings.


    So-what would you do ?

  18. James,

    Good point….

    anecdotally you can probably assume that the youngsters are less likely to have children than the oldies… but amazingly the older the category, the more likely they are to support the policy and the principle. Of course, by the time we get to the oldest bracket, one might reasonably assume that their bambinos are reared and off… But the age category least in favour are the youngest….

    18-25s would have been beneficiaries of the EMA and also GB’s idea to pay CB right up to their 19th brithday so perhaps that has conditioned them more favourbaly to the benefit culture. (idle speculation– I admit- but when you that little amount of data to go on, conjecture is what one is resigned to).

  19. @Bullman,
    Which is why it was very wise of ED M not to enter the fray..

  20. The simple thing to remember in all this farago, as we contemplate the first big example of the cuts to come, is that voters generally never remember what positives you do for them, but what negatives you take away ! Look at the long list of goodies the last Labour Govt gave, massive increases in Doctors, Nurses, Teachers, Police even Defence, Bus Passes Winter Fuel, Minimum Wage, Sure Start, child benefit even reductions in Income Tax. But what did people remember on the doorsteps… a 75p Pension increase and ending of the 10p tax rate, both later reversed ! Once the real cuts hit there will be a tidal wave chorus of ” I never voted for this !”

    What is fundamentally at fault here is an electorate treated by the media to politics as personality, froth and simplicity, rather than, ideology, depth and balanced complexity.

  21. The headline yarns about lazy workless spongers living in luxury in Chelsea help to distract attention from the real issue, which is what happens (especially in London) when the low-paid workers cannot afford to live near their jobs. Seems we will have to wait until people complain about their worsening services.

  22. @BILLY BOB
    I wish to say how broken up I am about the Bengali community in Tower Hamlets.

    What is wrong with describing something that holds money as a pocket book ? The expression has been around for years. Is there no translation into Welsh or something?

  23. @Colin – “So-what would you do ?”

    To give you the absolute honest answer, do what I usually do – worry. :(

    What I did do was trust GB to do his very best with the intractable problems. What I did not do is place any trust in GO to deal sensitively with the complexity
    of how major changes impact weak and very fallible people. (You should know by now that I am no big policy wonk. ;) :) )

    One or two out-there economists do advocate increasing benefits during a downturn, as any money goes straight back into the system. Martyn’s advice that we all can all do without cars, moblies, broadband, etc, etc, while quite sound in its own way, will not lead to much growth in the economy.

  24. BillyBob
    “This reminds me of the discussion with Martyn about a supposed inexhaustible supply of sub-125K three bed houses availiable in the South East for the squeezed middle-classes to effortlessly downgrade into.”

    Right now-on Rightmove-the biggest property search site in UK- there are 3bedroom properties available for £200k & less as follows :-

    Kent-1000 “plus”
    East Sussex-947
    WEst Sussex-711

    Check them out.

  25. Personally, (and I do not mean this as an attack), I think people on here over analyse everything, you just put too many caveats and fail to see the woods for the trees, life in general does not do this.
    For a start, anyone that was not expecting the Sun to come up with poll findings like this, completely misses the politics of that particular group of papers. Look at the questions asked and the way they are asked, they make it almost impossible for anyone to give the answer they may want to give.
    I just wonder where they got this huge 86% figure from, when in real life, without exception every single person I have spoken to, thinks this is extremely unfair, to get to that 86% figure at least 2 or 3 of the people I have spoken to (regardless of political orientation) should be in agreement and I could not find one. The only person I heard actually praising this was a newly elected Tory MP who “just happened” to be sitting next to Cameron in the cheap seats at their conference. Sorry but it just does not tally. This further confirms that YouGov polls are actually quite worthless, why are they always the exact opposite to virtually every other poll? Why do they always seem to be bad for the Tories on one day and when they hit a little “local difficulty” they zoom back up the next day?

    I cannot be bothered to analyse them, I think they are just plain wrong and in some cases skewed. YoouGov polls appear to create more questions about the Sun and YouGov themselves than they actually answer with their surveys.

  26. Cozmo,

    Someone working on the minimum wage earns

    £5.93 per hour
    £237 per 40 hour week
    £11162 per year (after income tax)

    That is a quarter of the £44k dudes.

    Housing is a problem in its own right- not one to be linked with the Child Benefit debate. This is a culmsily implemented but in general useful income resdistibution initiative. (very) Broadly speaking, it is fair.

  27. Billy Bob

    “To give you the absolute honest answer, do what I usually do – worry. ”


    Try not to-life’s too short .

  28. @Colin – Yes, on Rightmove.

    But, wouldn’t that mean for every 1,000 houses taken up by squeezed middles, there would be 1,000 houses in leafy locations left empty because no one can afford them. And wouldn’t 1,000 lower income families find they have been out-bid on the only houses that suited their requirement?

  29. @Cozmo

    Low paid workers are not the only people who cannot afford to live near their jobs especially in London. Those commuter trains are full for a reason.

  30. @Billy Bob

    ‘ there would be 1,000 houses in leafy locations left empty because no one can afford them. ‘

    Not for long. Empty properties have a nasty habit of getting cheaper.

  31. Colin – This is like trying to argue that because a TV normally costs £400, you can get a perfectly serviceable one for £80. Of course you could spend £1500 on one too.

    Believe me, I have good reason to wish that the houses in West Sussex for less than £200k were viable.

    A very few are. Most are either repossessions (that disappear the day they are posted) have very big problems indeed (structural, next to a 24 hr factory etc) or are in areas that are violent, drug ridden or served by terrible schools.

    I realised yesterday that for the posters here who don’t live in a high cost area, my arguments may seem out of touch or even snobby, so it’s probably best just to leave this argument.

    It is however, irrefutable, that where I live and for many miles surrounding it, there are no 3 bed properties actually available for less than 179k and you still need a combined income of 60k a year to afford that!!!! (Or 50k with a 30k deposit!!!!!!!)

    It’s all wrong and imo the big elephant in the room. House prices just aren’t sustainable at this level.

    Try ringing Rightmove and asking them about some of the properties at the lower end of your scale. The good ones never make it to Rightmove or go the day they do.

    I love house hunting. Often on holiday I start squealing at my hubby that you can get a 3 bed for 120k/140k/160k with land/a garage/ etc. Of course when you actually live in that area and try to move, of course you can’t. You have to know an area to underst
    and it’s property market.

  32. @Aleksandar
    “Low paid workers are not the only people who cannot afford to live near their jobs especially in London. Those commuter trains are full for a reason.”
    Such a common response from blues. Let’s not talk about problem A – let’s look at problem B instead.

    Are you suggesting that the lower paid workers should move out into the commuter belt and pay commuter fares out of their meagre nett pay?

    You also completely miss the point that essential service workers often have to start work at the crack of dawn. There is a crucial time issue here but you choose to ignore it and point the finger elsewhere.

  33. Marjory,

    I think you started reading the site after this post, so it’s probably worth highlighting it again

    TOO frequently asked questions about polls

  34. YG (6.10.10): Which of the following do you think are the most important issues facing the country at this time? (Please tick up to three.)

    1. The economy– 78%
    2. Immigration & Asylum– 50%
    3. Crime– 26%
    4. Health –24%
    5. Tax –18%
    6. Pensions– 18%
    7. Afghanistan –17%
    8. Education –14%
    9. Family life & childcare –10%
    10. The environment– 9%
    11. Europe –3%
    12. Transport –3%

  35. @Eoin
    “Housing is a problem in its own right- not one to be linked with the Child Benefit debate.”
    There will be a cap on the overall benefits level within a household, which will include housing benefit. Once introduced it will be easy to tweak and tighten it over the years. London services in particular will be affected before long.

  36. Cozmo,

    There are lot sof things the gov (be it red or blue) could do/could have done about housing.

    1. On average 3,000 homes per borough are boarded up.
    2. Extend co-ownership arrangements.
    3. Introduce a mortagge interest rate cap.
    4. Allow/encourage councils to build a lot more homes.
    5. Prevent buy to let speculators purchasing homes in (inner) metropolitan concurbines.
    6. Minimum retention of property period of say 2 years
    7. Legislate that property developers must produce a quota of affordable homes in ratio to any contracts/projects they undertake

    Child benefit should not be conflated with it (in my view).

  37. I think the overall support number in this poll is probably right: certainly above 75%.

    Currently broadly right: for NOW. As this will dip slightly as the policy and the continuing negative press it receives (and the mortgage relief flip-flop) sinks in (not everyone is as up-to-the-minute on this stuff and so quick to analyse so deeply as we are)!

    Furthermore if there is a mortgage tax relief sleight-of-hand to negate the CB change that will get major press/blogosphere attention and then- presumably- all those people who supported the ‘rich’ getting their benefit cut will feel aggrieved that they actually aren’t.

    But the key point to remember is that this is a policy that the (mostly) natural blues in the upper income tax bracket don’t like. Whether it is unsubtly negated by the MTR approach or whether Cameron and Osborne stick with it on the ‘populist’ motivation for its introduction (not fairness which they claim- it was another Osborne populist tactical device), either way they have already peed off a great number of their natural constituency over this. That is clear irrespective of this poll.

    Furthermore- and importantly for the medium/ ling term- the coalition are about to hit those other than their natural supporters. That- combined with this policy mess and hitting their own supporters- could be significant both for poll numbers and real votes.

    Accordingly it will be interesting to see polling (regarding support of this policy specifically and this sort of approach more generally) over the coming few days and weeks based on both 2010 vote/ intended vote at next GE and social class (sorry Colin).

    I fully expect the Blue number- subject to the usual m.o.e fluctuations (which IMO was the case with the YG last night)- to take a hit and any ‘bounce’ to be largely diluted by this ongoing saga.

  38. @Eoin
    “Housing is a problem in its own right- not one to be linked with the Child Benefit debate.”

    I tend to agree with this.

  39. @Eoin
    I agree with many of your points 1 to 7 and yes child benefit should not be conflated with it. It is not just the amount but there are many pluses to the cash going direct to mothers ( of whatever social standing ).

    I have always blamed the last Labour Government for their abysmal failure to deal with the housing shortage, and that includes all types – owned / leased / council / housing associations. Alas, we are offered no solutions and by giving local communities the power to veto developments on their doorstep the Nimbies will hinder any moves to build new homes.

  40. I can see totally why Colin argues that 26k is a reasonable cap to set on benefits (be careful with the 35k figure though, some benefits are taxable)

    On first glance it seems quite fair, and is, actually higher than I thought it would be.

    The problems will come (and would with any cap) in areas where housing costs are high or when the claimant needs extra help to get by. (Does this include disability allowances? if not, my comment doesn’t apply) Care costs, costs involved with being genuinely disabled soon add up.

    Surely the real point here is that 26k has become less than we need to get by in some areas? That was my point yesterday about the 44k – it is probably a better indication of what we need today, wages just don’t reflect it.

    It is certainly the case that many people not on benefits have to exist on less than 26k, but remember, this is a capped level – not all claimants will receive this, far from it.

    I think blues are more likely to say “Well, I instinctively feel this is fair”

    Reds are more likely to focus on those that will fall through the net.

  41. Link to relevant YouGov data (up since Anthony wrote piece):

    ht tp://

    And on that topic: Eoin (9:25) – read the question again. You’re asked to “support or oppose limiting child benefit so that people with high incomes do not receive it?”; you’re not asked to support the stated Government limit. The question is at best ambiguous and the trouble with on-line polling is that the respondents have time to think of all sorts of interpretations of a question; but nobody to ask which is the correct one.

    Other interpretive problems with just these three questions: people (especially if older – the group most in favour) may be confusing child benefit with tax credits (“oh, you mean family allowance, dear”); would the second question have got a different response if it had read “where a husband and wife earn
    £43,000 each”?; what is the amount in “no
    family can recieve more than the average family would get for going to work”? – it’s not the same as “average person” or “average household” and I bet it’s not £25,000. And lets not even start on “average” as median or mode. And that’s not how you spell “receive”*.

    I’m not picking on YouGov, who I think are probably the best of the pollsters when it comes to asking questions carefully. It’s just these problems are inherent in on-line polling and you have to be careful with interpretation.

    There’s also a number of other possible pitfalls that haven’t been dealt with:

    Everyone assumes one-parent families are poor. But there will be a lot of middle-class parents out there (divorced, widowed, deserted) earning just over the limit (senior teachers, police inspectors, lower management) earning just over the limit. But like other single parents they have less flexibility with and more costs for child care and they will be very vocal when they realise.

    There’s no guarantee it will save the £1 billion promised as for many it will be worth it to adjust things – reducing government savings.

    There’s also the South East problem of the housing costs/commuting costs trade-off which a lot of people hit. London is notably less enthusiastic about this (75% v 82-86% elsewhere) and will be even less so when people start to realise that friends and neighbours will be hit (and the more affluent working couple next door won’t be).

    You also wonder how quickly this benefit can be restored on say break-up of relationship (I know some women rely on Child Benefit as the only money the family has in this situation).

    Also, if someone happens to earn just over the limit in a tax year, will they have to refund the whole amount? That’s just under £2,500 for three kids, because you worked an hours overtime more than you should.

    And how will this “simple” admin work? Especially with the benefit being received by one person and the salary being checked earned by the other?

    “Clever” announcements with immediate public appeal have a way of unravelling the longer they are looked at. And these don’t come in till 2013.

    * By the Law of Teh Internets, this comment will now include at least one horrendous spelling error.

  42. Cozmo,

    Yes I agree entirely with your gendered comment. From perosnal experience, I have witnessed domestic conflict over the early morning whereabouts of the old CB books. How this conflcit materialises in the elctronic age, I do not know but I am sure there still ways the patriarch can get his hands on it. For that reason, I am personally opposed to the removal of CB. But since it is going to happen whether we like it or not- a tribunal of appeal for mothers such as the ones you describe or indeed stay at home mums out of care needs should be able to be exempt. The drive now should be about making the legisation better.

    The NIMBY prob. DC will have to tackle. If not he is in danger of well meaning people opposing his decentralsiation of power & big society. If these people are to become home grown megalomaniacs who refuse to allow anything other than detached crofts or the like to be built, then ordinary people will, rightly, come rushing back into the arms of the big statists.

    The ball is in the blue court: do they really want to make these initiatives work>? Some of the events due to occur in the next few months will soon leave us in no doubt.

  43. **caveat : 44k as the household income, not individual before it all starts again…..

  44. The benefits cap sounds like a reasonable idea when you first hear about it.

    However, it is likely to be controlled/managed by specific relation to housing benefit because that is administered separately. So it is likely to have the specific affect of forcing families out of expensive property areas.

    If you are to introduce such a policy it is beholden on the govt to have plans to deal with such an eventuality.

    Where are these families to move to? And what knock on effects will this create?

    Has this policy been fully thought through or, like the child benefit row, will it set off a chain of unforeseen snags?… Further social problems that then need further money spent to solve them?

    Is this policy really about saving money? (again a relatively small amount in the grand scheme of things) Or is it about moving claimants out of gentrified areas – eg Hammersmith, North Kensington etc- so that they return a Tory MP next time round?

    The top rate tax payers receiving child benefit have a vociferous press to help them gain concessions. It’s not the fault of people living in expensive inner city areas that the property market is so hyper-inflated.
    Who will speak up for them?

  45. Has anyone got a link to info about the benefits cap?

    I mean the overall cap at 26k a year?

    No good me assuming what’s involved and what’s not.

  46. Oh dear, this is very worrying.

    I found the info myself and I see that those on DLA are exempted but those on Incapacity benefit (or the new ESA) are not.

    To qualify for DLA you need to be physically disabled – either incapable of walking or in need of additional care.

    Many many people with long term chronic conditions do not qualify for DLA but are not only unable to work, but un-employable.

    I am getting very very concerned by this assumption that those on Incapacity are scroungers who don’t have “real disabilities” or needs.

    Ironically, I think this will lead to a surge in DLA applications too. Many many sick people don’t claim DLA as it is incredibly complex and so limited in scope that they don’t feel they ought to.

  47. @Sue
    I suggest:-
    h ttp://

  48. Eoin

    Housing is conflated with everything. You can’t get away from it, because for 99% of families it is their biggest expense – whether paid by themselves or wholly or in part by the state.

    Some of you suggestions have been tried but are only effective at the margins (1,2,7); some are unacceptable for political reasons – and to be fair would probably have unintended consequence (3,5,6). Only 4 will work and there is a backlog of 30 years and 3 million homes to get rid of, even if there was the political will to reverse the prevailing ideology and the money to do it.

    Mind you I do like the sound of those (inner) metropolitan concurbines

  49. “Mind you I do like the sound of those (inner) metropolitan concurbines”

    where – where – is there a waiting list ?


  50. @Billy Bob

    You wrote “…So there is no housing crisis? This reminds me of the discussion with Martyn about a supposed inexhaustible supply of sub-125K three bed houses availiable in the South East for the squeezed middle-classes to effortlessly downgrade into…”

    The discussion in question related to the claims by Sue that it would be difficult for her to manage in the South-East on less than £44Kpa, and that she could not purchase a viable 3-bed house within a reasonable distance (which I took to be 15 miles) of the Brighton area for less than £250K. I demonstrated that she could do both and was tactful enough not to mention Crawley, which Sue forgot about. I also pointed out that tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of people bring up 3 or more kids in the South East on *considerably* less than £44Kpa.

    I did not claim that there was no housing crisis – there certainly is. I did not claim that such downgrading would be effortless – it would not be. I do not claim that everybody could manage – they could not.

    Regards, Martyn


    * However, I do claim that somebody who has their health, earns £44Kpa, and has a mortgage on a South-East property taken out before 2007 is one of the most fortunate people in the UK – indeed, one of the most fortunate people on the planet during the whole of recorded history.
    * If you want to widen the discussion to include the whole of the South-East (excluding Greater London/M25) instead of just 15 miles from Brighton, then I’m more, more than happy to oblige, in excruciating detail. All you have to do is say… :-)

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