While the polling inquiry continues and we all work out what went wrong the Guardian aren’t publishing their ICM/Guardian polls, but they are still being done. Martin Boon has tweeted July’s results, which have topline figures of CON 38%, LAB 34%, LDEM 6%, UKIP 13%, GRN 4%.
As I wrote in my previous poll, YouGov released a second bite of budget polling on Friday, this part conducted after the initial press reaction to the budget. This wave highlights some of the public’s rather complex views on benefits and the living wage.
Public attitudes to welfare are complicated, sometimes contradictory and it is easy to cherry pick polling results to show the public support or oppose big cuts to benefits, depending on one’s views. At the simplest level people like the idea of benefit cuts because they think they go to people who don’t deserve them and who haven’t contributed to them. Exactly who they imagine these people are is more difficult to say, since if you ask about most groups who recieve benefits people oppose cuts.
So, overall 38% of people say cuts to benefits have gone too far, 23% they they are about right, 24% would go even further. Asked about the level of benefits and the number of people who can claim them 45% say benefits are too generous, 40% they they are too low (23%) or about right (17%); 57% say too many people are eligible, 30% that too few (19%) or about the right number of people are eligible (11%). Looking at those figures people seem to be pretty pro-cut.
Asked about individual groups of people who receive benefits though and the public suddenly become much more charitable. Only 4% think retired people on the state pension get too much in benefits, only 9% think disabled people do, only 12% think people in low paid work do. 19% think working people with children get too much in benefits, but 33% think they should get more. Opinion on unemployed people is the most evenly balanced, with 28% saying they get too much in benefits, 24% too little, 31% about right. The only group where people come down heavily on the side of too much money being spent on benefits is better off retired people… the group that politicians never cut benefits from because they vote.
This raises the question of why people think benefits are too high and too widely spread if they don’t think the unemployed, pensioners, parents, disabled people or the working poor get too much. I hardly think when people talk about benefit cuts they are thinking of winter fuel payments, rather I expect the support comes from the continuing belief that lots of benefits go to categories not asked about like “people who aren’t really disabled”, “people who could work but can’t”, “asylum seekers” and so on.
Attitudes were similarly complex on the government’s national living wage. We saw in Thursday’s poll that this received overwhelming support. This poll however found rather more nuanced attitude. 31% of people think that the living wage will end up increasing unemployment… yet only 7% think it is being set too high (the implication being that some proportion of people think it more important that jobs pay a decent wage than unemployment is minimised). The principle of the government’s approach is backed – 39% think it’s better for government to reduce in-work poverty by forcing business to pay higher wages (even if it increases unemployment) compared to 19% of people who think it is better for government to reduce in-work poverty by using the tax and benefit system (even if it costs a lot). However, asked about their overall perceptions of the budget people think, by 39% to 28%, that it will leave people in low paid jobs worse off. The question the poll hasn’t asked is how much that matters to people. Too what extent, if any, would people rather low paid workers got more money in wages and less in benefits even if they are less well off.