Dave’s onto a winner with welfare reform. But the polling suggests the public want him to go further
written by: Nick Wood
The health Bill may be in tatters, the surge in popular support sparked by Dave's EU veto may have dissipated, the economy may still be flatlining. But there is one important Government reform that enjoys overwhelming support - overhauling welfare.
The Welfare Reform Bill was signed off by the Lords yesterday and will soon be law.
Its two main features are a benefits cap of £26,000, which means that no household can receive more in handouts than those in work on average pre-tax wages of £35,000 a year, and merging all benefits into a single universal credit, intended to ensure that work always pays more than staying on the dole.
Given all his problems, it was no wonder that the PM was singing the praises of the Bill's architect Welfare Secretary Iain Duncan Smith this morning and hailing the reform package as "marking the end of the culture that says a life on benefits is an acceptable alternative to work".
What Cameron may not appreciate is the extent of public support for cracking down on the £111 billion a year social security bill.
A new survey, conducted by YouGov and published in the March issue of the left-of-centre magazine Prospect, demonstrates how strongly people endorse the kind of changes in Duncan Smith's Bill.
Asked if the Government pays out too much in benefits and if welfare levels overall should be reduced, 74 per cent of the public agree and only 17 per cent disagree.
Among Labour and Lib Dem supporters, there is also strong backing. Labour voters back the proposal by 59 to 32 and Lib Dems by 74 to 15. Among Tories, there is almost universal endorsement, by 94 to 3.
The survey also throws up another key finding. In the unending argument over the balance between tax and spending, the public clearly believe they are being short-changed. Only 8 per cent believe they receive more in public services and benefits than they pay in taxes. A decisive 55 per cent believe they are net losers.
As the current debate over the Budget indicates, a shift has taken place in the public mind towards a smaller state and lower taxes. It is quite another thing, of course, whether Cameron and George Osborne recognise this. Despite the move to the Right over welfare, there is a long way to go before the Blair/Brown mantra of "schools and hospitals" ceases to dominate the political landscape.
Polling figures like these, should be studied by the big companies, who, faced with a small but noisy mob of anti-capitalist activists, initially shied away from the Government's work experience programme.
Looking like they were badly in need of a backbone transplant, some firms threatened to quit the scheme unless ministers dropped their plans to dock the benefits of jobless youngsters who abandoned the programme for no good reason.
The Government has watered down its threat of benefit cuts and despite the controversy, the signs are that more firms are joining a programme that is having success in getting the young unemployed into work.
Back to that Budget debate. The YouGov survey suggests that, in tough economic times, the electorate wants to tougher approach to spending and, by extension, a move to lower taxes. Do Dave and George get it?