The start of the welfare reforms last week degenerated into often fact free arguments about scroungers, shirkers and the deserving poor.
No one has yet said the welfare system will make you burn your house down and kill your kids, but it is still being routinely portrayed as a lifestyle choice.
In Ipsos MORI’s research, large numbers of the public agree both that politicians should cut spending (72%), and that certain groups of people should have their benefits cut (76%) – especially immigrants and people getting lots of housing benefit. They support government moves to shift people off incapacity benefit. But they also mis-estimate fraud levels, helped by the Daily Mail, by about 300%, thinking about 30% of claimants are scroungers, and think people on the dole and pensioners should get inflation rate rises – only 27% support 1% rises.
The fact that local government is going to have to cut what it hands out in council tax benefit by 10%, and face a collection nightmare, got much less coverage. Neither did how local government finds housing for those trying to move because of the “spare room supplement withdrawal” in social housing, when the number of two bedroom units is often roughly double the number of single bedroom ones.
As Tony Travers points out, if central government had inflicted the same reductions on itself that it has on local government, things might be very different, but you won’t hear that either.
At present 55% of people say they are worried about cuts in local services (much higher for working class people in northern Britain). Local government’s evolution to a much lower cost base is going to go on for some time. It will only be when about 80% of the public are worried, and when frontline universal services are massively affected that we will start to see any public opinion central government might worry about.
Ben Page, chief executive, Ipsos Mori