A new poll has shown that 69% of UK citizens oppose cuts to benefits.
The survey, by Ipsos MORI, found that there was a large majority against cutting benefits in real terms when specific benefits were named.
Chancellor George Osborne gave his Autumn Statement last week and set a below-inflation increase for in-work benefits of 1% each year until 2016.
Inflation is currently 2.7% meaning benefits will be cut for three years when the increase in the cost of living is taken in to account.
The question asked in the new poll was: 'In Wednesday’s Autumn Statement the Chancellor announced that most working age benefits, including Job Seekers Allowance, Income Support and Child Benefit (but not disability or carers benefits), will rise by 1%, which is below inflation. Which of the following statements comes closest to your view about these benefits?'
The responses were:
They should not rise at all 11%
They should rise by less than inflation 16%
They should rise in line with inflation 59%
They should rise by more than inflation 10%
Don't know 4%
In total, 69% opposed a cut in absolute or real terms, while only 27% supported it.
An earier poll by YouGov found that 52% of voters believed George Osborne was right to increase benefits by 1%, with 35% opposed.
The difference between the findings of the two polls may be explained by the Ipsos MORI poll naming specific benefits to be cut while YouGov did not.
Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1,023 adults aged 18+ across Great Britain. Interviews were conducted by telephone 8 – 10 December 2012. Data are weighted to match the profile of the population.
This is goods news for unemployed people and all benefit claimants. The Chancellor appeared to gain the confidence to cut benefits in real terms - for the first time since 1931 - from polls which suggested that the majority favoured cuts.
But Ipsos MORI's new survey shows that, when given information about the specific benefits to be cut, the majority favour increases in line with inflation or above.
Why would this be? It could be that the very word 'benefits' brings to mind the cheats and skivers that some newspapers love to report on. The word has been made toxic by this reporting, and the kind of politician's rhetoric that seeks to exploit negative coverage and divide the working poor from the workless.
If the specific benefits are added in to the question the link between them and the issues they are trying to overcome is restored. The words 'Jobseeker's Allowance' remind us that many are blamelessly unemployed; the words 'housing benefit' remind us that, without this money, many more people would be homeless.
It is hard to think of punishing people when a picture of worklessness or homelessness is painted in the mind's eye, and this is why those who understand and care about these things must keep making the point that benefits are a safety net that a civilised society cannot do without.
We must keep alive the truth: benefits do not equal cheating for the vast majority of claimants. They are all that stand between us and a total breakdown of all in our society that we hold dear, and eroding their value by stealth could see us sleepwalking in to the kind of mass poverty we have not seen in Britain for decades.
Ipsos MORI's poll should give all of us, including politicians and newspaper editors, the confidence to lead and encourage Britain towards a better understanding of why benefits exist and a fairer settlement with all who need them.