Stating the Basics on Welfare

Last November a brief survey exercise took place in Sheffield city centre which collated a total of 62 people’s detailed views on welfare spending. The survey’s findings were published earlier this year as “Is a little knowledge about welfare a dangerous thing? A small scale study into attitudes towards, and knowledge about, welfare expenditure.

“Passing members of the public were approached and asked if they wished to ‘Take the Welfare Reform Challenge’ by completing a brief questionnaire; those who agreed to do so then completed the questionnaire. Several questions in the survey deliberately repeated the wording of questions posed in the annual British Social Attitudes surveys of public attitudes to welfare, to enable comparison. The questionnaires were completed anonymously and respondents were then invited to discuss their answers on completion, and all but four agreed to do so. This gave participants the opportunity to express their attitudes towards welfare reform and to consider their responses to the factual questions alongside the correct answers. Respondents were given a £5 voucher in recognition of their contribution to the exercise.”

The Tories obsession with the welfare system is understandable enough, but the apparent need to reform welfare “can be traced to a series of reports and reviews undertaken by the preceding Labour Government between 2006 and 2008.” The first report being the 2006 Green Paper, A New Deal for Welfare: empowering people to work (DWP, 2006), and the second, which was largely inspired by Lord Freud’s interventions into such matters, was the 2008 White Paper Raising Expectations and Increasing Support: reforming welfare for the future (DWP, 2008).

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Rather than taking up the Tories incessant lies (“Welfare Reform and the Production of Ignorance”), the Labour Party “seems determined to respond by changing the subject, to the NHS, rather than setting out an alternative agenda on welfare benefits, with the single exception of the commitment to scrap the bedroom tax”.

Either way the Sheffield survey determined that “people who define themselves as ‘comfortably off’ have less positive attitudes overall to welfare expenditure” than those who identify as being less affluent. “But the Sheffield survey does suggest that shining a light on how ‘taxpayers’ money’ is spent may not necessarily increase support for further cuts in the welfare budget. Indeed, the reverse is more likely to be the case”.

“In summary, the majority of respondents in the Sheffield survey disagreed with the statements that ‘many people who get social security do not really deserve any help’ and ‘most people on the dole are fiddling in one way or another’. The majority also felt that there should be more expenditure than at present on benefits for disabled people who cannot work, for people who care for those who are sick and disabled and for people who work on very low incomes. Furthermore nearly three quarters of those interviewed thought that ‘there was quite a lot of real poverty in Britain’. However, opinion was more evenly divided on other questions – notably whether the government should spend more money on welfare benefits even if it leads to higher taxes (44 per cent in favour, 42 per cent against) and whether benefits for unemployed people are too low (47 per cent agree) or too high (44 per cent agree).”

That said political organisation like the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) have made it quite clear that increasing spending on welfare does not need to be linked to increased taxes for majority of people. Of course the opposite is true, an increase in tax for the super-rich will be necessary to enable an increase in public spending on welfare. Certainly the question that needs to be raised consistently is why should the super-rich avoid paying £120 billion a tax every year?

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