I have regularly blogged about “emotional” topics and the sudden resignation of Ian Duncan Smith is another example of how politicians can misunderstand public opinion ending up with some bad policy.
As Ali G once said, “is it called welfare coz it is well fair?” Well, obviously not but discuss welfare on the streets and it will almost always end up with a discussion about perceived fairness.So, whilst public opinion is generally hostile to “welfare”, you have to dig deeper to understand what is actually being expressed.
So in the “well fair” category in the view of many would be the elderly, the disabled, those who have worked hard but now in difficult times due to redundancy, illness, bereavement. In all my years, I have never heard any member of the public say that the meagre incomes of the genuinely disabled should be cut and people seem happy to ensure benefits go to either those who “deserve” it or are seen as “good causes”
But in the “well unfair” category are 3 groups often mentioned namely:-
(a) “scroungers” – a caricature of people who could work but instead sit at home drinking and watching Jeremy Kyle. “why are we paying for them” is the regular phrase you get to hear.
(b) “immigrants sponging off the state” by allegedly claiming large numbers of benefits having paid nothing in.
(c) “fraudsters” i.e. people who say they are sick when they are not.
Now the problem is that the public perceive the second group of “well unfair” to be huge and the vast majority of benefit claimants no doubt because extremist cases can appear in the media. Therefore, when the call goes up to “cut welfare”, this is the group that they actually mean rather than the elderly or disabled.
Unfortunately, as all Governments find out, this is predicated on a big fat myth and in fact the “well unfair” group is very small or false and already pretty well targeted by whichever party is in power. In fact, many would argue that they are already over targeted for example the most hated and generally derided ATOS tests relating to disability.
However, very large numbers of claimants (the overwhelming majority) are in the “well fair” group especially the elderly with the number 1 benefit being pensions. Not surprisingly, very few politicians want to challenge this as it suits a rhetoric to go after the “undeserving” first.
So it’s really no surprise that the Government have become unstuck firstly on tax credits and now disability payments. It’s because these are generally value judged as fair payments to those in genuine need.
Ironically, Ian Duncan Smith is right in one regard – if you do want to reduce welfare, you need to look at the payments currently protected for older people. However, I suspect that the “grey vote” will mean that when the rhetoric against welfare increases so will the actual budget.. .