Budget: The myth that Osborne’s welfare cuts are wildly popular

So much for the centre ground of politics having shifted irrevocably to the right


Chancellor George Osborne will make £12bn in welfare cuts a central plank of his budget speech later today. Despite it being reported this morning that the chancellor plans to ‘slow’ the pace of the cuts, he is hardly taking his foot off the gas – the cuts will simply be carried out over three years instead of two.

The scale and pace of the cuts remain unprecedented. We know at present that Osborne is planning to: lower the benefit cap of £23,000 in London and lower it further in the rest of the country; remove tax credits from around 3.7million working families; disqualify most 18- to 21-year-olds from claiming housing benefit; and freeze the level of working-age benefits for two years from next April.

The scale of the changes will leave the welfare state growing at its slowest pace since 1948 – quite something considering the speed at which Britain’s population is ageing (and is therefore more reliant on social security in some form).

Leave aside for a moment arguments over the morality of taking money away from those with little of it already – all the while cutting inheritance tax for the top 6 per cent (only the top 6 per cent actually pay inheritance tax) – there is a myth doing the rounds that cuts to welfare of this scale are wildly popular.

That’s the Spectator’s James Forsyth, who is by no means exceptional in assuming that it’s a vote winner to bash those on benefits.

Yet a ComRes poll for the Daily Mail, out this morning, reveals the opposite. According to this, six in ten (57 per cent) of Britons oppose the potential £12 billion cuts to welfare spending. And it’s supported by just half (52 per cent) of Conservative supporters, with 43 per cent opposed to it. Just a quarter (24 per cent) of Labour supporters back the cuts.

Meanwhile, according to the same poll, the proposed tax cut for top rate tax payers is the least popular of Osborne’s policies; just a third (33 per cent) of Britons polled say they support cutting the rate from 45p to 40p for those earning over £150,000. Six in ten (61 per cent) oppose the tax cut – even among Conservative supporters 57 per cent are opposed.

As for an inheritance tax cut, slightly over half (53 per cent) support increasing the inheritance tax threshold while 39 per cent oppose it. And raising the threshold for the 20p rate of income tax would be supported by eight in ten (80 per cent) of Britons.

So much, then, for the centre ground of politics having shifted irrevocably to the right.

James Bloodworth is the editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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