A new YouGov poll for Channel 4 News yesterday found strong public support for many of the government’s planned cuts to benefits. 73% of respondents supported the idea of making the long term unemployed do compulsory work placements or risk losing benefits, 66% supported withdrawing jobseekers allowance from people who turn down job offers or interviews, 69% supported more stringent testing of people claiming disability living allowance and 68% supported capping housing benefit at £400 a week, “even if this means people are forced to move house if they live in an area where the rent is high”. In all these cases the policies weren’t just popular amongst Conservative and Liberal Democrat supporters, they were also backed by a majority of Labour voters.

YouGov also asked if people thought the government should have cut benefits more or less, or had they got the balance about right. 31% thought the government was cutting too much, but 58% either thought the balance was right (34%) or would support even larger cuts to benefits (24%).

These findings are very much in line with earlier polling after the budget and the spending review, which found high levels of support for capping the total amount of benefits a family could receive, reducing the welfare budget and freezing the working tax credit. While some of the coalition’s planned cuts, such as higher tuition fees, higher VAT, or sending fewer criminals to prison are unpopular, polls have almost universally found that cuts to welfare benefits are popular.

This doesn’t necessarily mean cutting benefits is politically an easy option for the government though. Firstly, the cuts have not yet taken place, and when they do come into effect there are likely to be many media reports of individuals losing homes or facing financial difficulties which could turn public opinion away from the cuts.

There is also a risk that while individual cuts are popular, it will play into a broader image that the coalition are cutting spending in an unfair manner, or are interested only in helping the rich and don’t care about less well off people. YouGov’s regular tracker of whether people think the government’s cuts are being done fairly or unfairly has shown an increasing perception that savings are not being found in a fair way. Straight after the budget in June 45% of people thought the cuts were being carried out fairly, 34% unfairly. In our latest polling 37% thought they were fair, but 50% unfair.

In YouGov’s trackers of how people see the parties, the Conservatives are increasingly seen as being prepared to take tough and unpopular decisions (59% thought this description applied best to the Conservatives in our last poll), but they are also seen as “appealing to one section of society rather than to the whole country”.

However, opposing benefit cuts also carries risks for the Labour opposition. At the simplest level, the benefit cuts themselves are very popular, but even if that changes with time there is also a risk to Labour’s image. In polling for the Policy Network earlier this year YouGov found people already percieved the Labour party as being closest to the trade unions, benefit claimants and immigrants. If the Conservatives need to worry about still being seen as a party that cares only for the rich, Labour need to beware of potential middle class Labour voters seeing the party as one only for the dispossessed and poor.

(This article is cross posted from the YouGov website here)

488 Responses to “Polling on welfare cuts”

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  1. Someone pointed out that Donald Rumsfeld made a point of visiting IDS (who has numerous connections with the neocons, ie his ‘hard work’ on welfare reform) *before* meeting with government officials.
    There *was* manoeuvering on the part of some in the tory party at the time that the FO was trying to backpedal on an overt commitment to war, and it was coordinated with the hawks in Washington.

  2. Stanley,

    That was when the term was first coined…

    Now it refers to a government’s mandate to act on an unforseen event. Economic crisis etc…. War..

    the question as to what was a mandate came up on Oxford/Combridge examinations in June 2009. Perhaps I should have been a sport and confessed to marking 480 scripts on the topic.

  3. John Murphy,

    Not sure why I called you Stanley- that was for you.

  4. @Alec,

    That may be so, but what was the actual “non-Austerity” route open to the Irish?

    If they had said, “sod austerity, we’re going to make a dash for growth – lend us some wedge” would the markets have ponied up?

    Perhaps, sadly, the Irish situation was simply untenable. But if that is the case, then austerity is the inevitable result anyway because no money = austerity whatever your actual policy is.

  5. The lib dems have done a members forum survey on their website indicating overwhelming support for the coalition even though other questions indicated less enthusiasm than in July.

    Hooded Man showed some (a little) enthusiasm to know more about ‘avoidance of cognitive dissonance’ … which has certainly been demonstrated by the LP over the last 13y and I now fear is being suffered by some LD members.

    To illustrate, I will go back to the 50’s when some psychologists studied the impact of a charismatic religious female leader on a small American sect. She had had a vision that the end of the world would occur on Christmas Eve and to this end had persuaded some 60 families to sell up all their worldly goods.

    At about 11pm, Christmas Eve, the psychologists began to get very anxious for the safety of this woman when the end of the world didn’t happen. They needn’t have worried. At 11.30pm, she delivered the message that the world had won a reprieve, and instead of a murder, the congregation fell on their knees weeping, in gratitude to her.

    The explanation offered by the psychologists was that it was more palatable for the congregation to believe the ‘nonsense’ than to accept that they had been duped which would have rocked their faith in their predictive capacity and sense of self. In other words, they showed avoidance of cognitive dissonance.

  6. In June 2009 the question Explain the Doctrine of the MAndate appeared in an OCR exam. It carried the reward of 5 marks. In the interests of sanity for one an all, I include the mark scheme below.

    In a general sense the word mandate means that an individual or group has authority or permission to act, and that their actions are legitimate. From a political perspective the doctrine of the mandate has the following connotations.
    • A political mandate grants authority to the winning party at an election to form a government; this mandate may come from obtaining a majority of seats.
    • Following on from the above, the winning party has the mandate (or authority) to implement the policy options it outlined in its previous election manifesto.
    • It had been the Salisbury convention that the House of Lords should not and would not contest any policy set out in a winning party’s manifesto but was at liberty to challenge the ruling party when it deviated with new policy options from its manifesto pledges, here arguing that no mandate on this undisclosed area was in existence.
    • The concept of the mandate has been extended to cover the fact that a government can have a mandate to carry out whatever actions it sees to be in the best interest of the state; this may be referred to as the ‘doctor’s mandate’.

  7. Neil A

    My wife and I voted for the young man. We reasoned that he had time on his side whereas Ms (Mrs) Kramer is a grandee (bit like Campbell problem). I did not say has-been did I? She should go to the Lords and will anyway, when we get a PR election for that.

    He does not come ov er too bright to me, but that;s no draw back in politics.

    I think he will be careful not to adopt the stance you suggest. We already have Hughes for that.

  8. That last point is a classic point of ‘Soft-Sciences’ Academics over-stepping themselves by stating something as ‘fact’ that is debatable. The “Doctors Mandate” is explicitly not accepted as ‘fact’, as evidenced by the existence of the Salisbury convention arguing that mandate does not exist on undisclosed areas absent manifesto.

    So the marking requirements for that exam were self contradictory, since they seem to require the answer to be that it is a fact that doctors mandate exists, but also that the Salisbury convention says that it doesn’t.

  9. Neil A and everybody

    Did you notice we have broken our golden rule. We always end up voting for the loser (we voted for Huhne for Leader for instance).

    Is this an omen? No, I didn’t think so either.

  10. @neil A – I think a slower path to fiscal balance that didn’t sharply reverse growth might have had a better chance of success, but in truth you are probably right – the Irish got themselves into such a mess I doubt there was any real option other than a crash – only the timing was perhaps up for grabs?

    Where I think they have been dealt a very rough hand is by their supposed Euro allies in France and Germany. At the last EU summit merkel and Sarkozy railroaded the Lisbon amendment that basically changed the rules from 2013 to make bailouts for defaulting nations their own problem and removed any obligation from Eurozone neighbours to stand by the debts of others.

    The markets say this and panicked. Basically the Irish people should be raising a toast to their friends in Europe for completely shafting them.

    I’ve posted before about the mess that is the Euro. You cannot have a single currency with a single exchange rate without some form of internal capital flows to rebalance the effecects of a single interest rate. The French and Germans wanted to take the right interest rates for themselves but not cough up for the compensating flows and now they’ve pulled the rug from the Irish to suite their own internal politics.

    The Irish loyalty to Europe hasn’t brought them much reward. Once they saw the scale of their problems they should have ditched the Euro and devalued – then they might have had a chance.

  11. jay,

    September 11 could not have been in Bush’s manifesto.

    july 7 could not have been in Blair’s. Thus 90 da terro was according to Blair legitimate under Docto’s mandate. You are correct to say that the Lords took a different view and hence a sunset clause was needed.

    Those heydey summer days, when that legislation sturggled to pass was an historians dream I can tell you.

  12. @Richard in Norway – I did go to uni, and would say that the main qualification for entry ability to regurgitate what has is taught. University does give the opportunity to expand critical abilities etc, but the number of trained thinkers always vastly outweighs the original thinkers imo, and I often found my ‘town’ friends to be way more imaginative.

    I enjoy your posts, but have noticed an increased frequency of curse words in the last few days, so I’m hoping you are ok, in yourself. :)

  13. @Eoin

    Normally, when real world evidence and observation contradicts the opinion of an academic, the academic should reconsider that opinion.

    The academic who set that exam question and it’s marking criteria may well believe that a “doctors mandate” should exist. But observation of the political reality should show that mandate does not exist in UK politics.

  14. Jay B,

    You are a braver man than I. I can quote my Principal examiner, I am sure he would be happy for me to do so. He introduced himself to new examiners in 2004 with the following words:

    “I am God”.

    My Jesuit upbringing had me take him at face value, thus I consume these mark schemes like they are the bible. If you want to take issue with it feel free to do so. But at least now you can see that my reasoning was sincerely held.

  15. @Eoin:

    Thanks how interesting….who used it in that sense for the first time I wonder and why the inverted commas?

    Mandatum was orininally something given by a bishop (particularly the pope) as an authority to act in a canonically legal way…..By the time of the establishment of Universities the madatum was the authority to teach, hence ‘doctor’s madate’

  16. I should have said the bishop’s authoirity to teach

  17. Alec makes a good argument about representitative democracy. It came up in this year’s exam which I assessed. I’ll dig up the mark scheme for it, but it broadly follows the outline that Alec describes:

  18. @ John and Eoin

    The magisterium- of the teaching authority.

    Eoin: are you sure the SJ’s taught everything at face value?

  19. Chris Lane

    I thought the Jesuits imparted value via the “other end”.

  20. Chris L,

    Not sure if you got my reply to the SDLP acronym during the week. It was simply that. I attached no value judgement to it.

    Regarding this question: what is an SJ? It was actually Christian Brothers than got their 14 years worth out of me… I was cutting through the translation barrier…

  21. @ Éoin

    Standard answers for exam questions are not ‘holy’ writ. When at Uni, my group were given a past exam paper. We were to optimise the financial outcome. I took an unorthodox approach that resulted in a significantly better outcome than the specimen answer. My lecturer was, at first, a little incredulous but followed my working through with me.

    He then said, I am going to make a call to the examination board. They re-marked all the papers from that year to see if anybody had taken the same approach as I had & been marked down for it. Fortunately nobody had. The standard answer for that question was replaced with my version. 8-)

  22. Amber,

    Which part of the specimen answer do you think should be modified?

  23. I’ll wait for Daniel C or Julian to post but we are for an interesting evening.

  24. Yougov: Lab 41, C 39, LD 10

  25. @ Éoin

    BTW, the question was a trade, warehousing & logistics problem. How did I obtain a better result? I freed up space in my warehouses by giving stuff away (in my imagination, to the poor), instead of holding & waiting for its value to improve. Therefore, I freed up space to store stuff that was forecast to have a greated likelihood of increasing in value.

    Apparently, nobody else in the hothouse of academic finance, had considered the possibility of giving away stuff that had any future value whatsoever. 8-)

  26. and gov’ approval minus 10

  27. Amber,

    I like your thinking :) A lot :)


    Now the question I have, is how are Labour going to thank those good old students for their ‘noise’ ? Graduate Tax perhaps? :)

  28. @ Éoin,

    My friend :-) , I am not dismantling the specimen answer you posted – but I will question it & look at what supports/ contradicts it as soon as I have time.

    I was merely making the point that examination answers aren’t always the only possible answer/ view. 8-)

  29. Amber

    Brilliant solution, but the proposal to store Tony Blair’s memoirs wasn’t the wisest decision, :-)

  30. @ Éoin

    See you on the new thread. I am holding out for Labour giving them the same as we currently have in Scotland. No tuition fees. Take it out the private pension funds of us oldies who did well from our free Uni. 8-)

  31. New thread guys.


    If I am to mark all those kiddies scripts fairly, I have to stick to that scheme religously. :) So I will treat your words as white noise, until my marking days are done. :)

  32. @ Old Nat

    LOL :-) Yep – I knew they were going down. I gave them to the poor for fuel when they ran out of kindling wood. ;-)

  33. Eoin @7.44pm

    I’m not going to comment / reopen this particular discussion.

  34. Mike N,

    I wouldn’t either if I was wrong. Though I might be tempted to at least admit that I was. I gather you are significantly less magnanimous than to do so.

  35. Eoin

    You mistake a desire on my part not to reopen this discussion as a sign that I have conceded.

    All the arguments I put forward stand.

  36. Eoin

    Just looked up ‘magnanimous’…

    “generous or forgiving, especially towards a rival or less powerful person…”

    I can be magnanimous

    You put up a spirited argument.

  37. Mike N,

    I did not know you had it in you. I will be sure to work on being less “slippery”, since you might very well have a point on that. :)

  38. Eoin

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