Support for welfare cuts based on myths and misinformation

New research commissioned by the TUC shows support for government welfare cuts is based on ignorance and misinformation.

A recent poll shows many people’s assumptions about welfare spending are wildly inaccurate, that those who are most likely to be wrong about the realities of welfare are most likely to support government cuts, but that – when provided with accurate information – people shift from supporting government plans to opposing them.

For example, on average people think 27% of the welfare budget is wasted on fraud. In fact, by the government’s own figures, fraud accounts for only 0.7%.

The Chancellors decision to cap benefit increases at 1% is supported by 48% of those polled, with only 32% against. However, the polling shows that most people believe this cap will mostly hit the unemployed. When told that, in reality, it would affect low paid workers, support for it drops to 30%, with 40% against.

The research demonstrates that people who know least about the facts are the most hostile towards those on benefits. More than half of those who’s knowledge of benefits is “least accurate” think benefits are too generous, while fewer than one in three of those giving the “most accurate” answers agree.

Frances O’Grady, the TUC General Secretary, said: “It is not surprising that voters want to get tough on welfare. They think the system is much more generous than it is in reality, is riddled with fraud and is heavily skewed towards helping the unemployed, who they think are far more likely to stay on the dole than is actually the case. Indeed if what the average voter thinks was true, I’d want tough action too.

“But you should not conduct policy, particularly when it hits some of the most vulnerable people in society, on the basis of prejudice and ignorance. And it is plainly immoral to spread such prejudice purely for party gain, as ministers and their advisers are doing, by deliberately misleading people about the value of benefits and who gets them.”

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