There’s far less “scrounging” than you’d think from the headlines—but we’ll have to work to 70by Peter Kellner / March 26, 2015 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2015 issue of Prospect Magazine
There is an economic case for welfare reform. The government shells out more than £200bn a year on pensions, child support, unemployment benefits and help for low-paid, sick and disabled people. If it could make real inroads into that budget, it could reduce the deficit faster, cut taxes, spend more on schools, hospitals and new homes—or some combination of all three.
There is also a moral case for welfare reform. If too much goes to people who don’t deserve their benefits, or don’t really need them, this offends our sense of fairness, provokes resentment among taxpayers and, many of us fear, creates a dependency culture.
In the weeks ahead, we can expect all the parties to make both arguments as they set out their policies for reforming our benefits system. The trouble is, the public debate is based on fundamental misconceptions among voters which few politicians are prepared to dispel. The misconception is that the same policies will tackle both the moral and economic problems. They won’t, for the simple reason that the two problems are completely different; but none of the main parties seem willing to say so. With welfare, as with many other election controversies, most politicians prefer to pander to voters’ fears rather than confront them.
The public misconceptions are clear from YouGov’s latest survey for Prospect. Most voters vastly overstate…