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Coffee House

Why the Tories aren’t worried about the benefit wars

20 December 2012

3:00 PM

20 December 2012

3:00 PM

The government has just published the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill, and everyone’s pointing to polls which underline their own point about whether limiting the rise in benefits payments to 1 per cent is going to play well with voters.

Labour types are brandishing the Independent/ComRes poll, which says ‘a surprising high 43 per cent disagree’ that the government is right to cap the rise at 1 per cent. What they aren’t mentioning, of course, is that 49 per cent think the government is right: so hardly a resounding rejection of the policy.

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On the right, there’s a Populus poll for the Conservative party which tests Labour’s argument that support for the Bill drains away when voters hear it includes in-work benefits. Respondents were asked to agree or disagree with a series of statements. The first was ‘Benefits have been rising twice as far as wages since the crisis began, so it’s fair to cap in-work and out-of-work benefit rises at 1 per cent for a temporary period’. Overall, 62 per cent agreed with this statement which explicitly mentions in-work payments, while 25 per cent disagreed. Of those who agreed, 27 per cent strongly agreed, and 35 per cent said they ‘somewhat agree’ with the statement.

Even if you break it down, as Labour has, by social group, support for the cap stays strong. Labour is convinced that this legislation will lead to C1 and C2 voters deserting the Tories in 2015, but 64 per cent of C1s and 65 per cent of C2s agree that this is a fair measure. It’s worth reading Jonathan’s analysis of Labour’s confidence about the Uprating Bill, too.

The Tories are also heartened by the support the poll demonstrated for raising the personal tax allowance and freezing fuel duty, with 81 per cent of respondents saying that was ‘the best way to help people on low incomes’. When asked whether the best way to help people on low incomes was to redistribute money through tax credits, only 19 per cent agreed. The Prime Minister has already made use of this argument at Prime Minister’s Questions several times, and that will certainly continue at future debates.

Although yesterday’s PMQs was dramatic, I understand those in Number 10 are pretty relaxed about the argument that Labour is trying to make. It might win points on the floor of the House of Commons, but the Tories don’t believe it is an effective long-term game to paint a picture of a Dickensian Britain as it will make life much harder for Labour in 2015 when it has to accept that it will need to make cuts of its own which – as all cuts policies do – would mean certain groups lose out. Conservative MPs at the 1922 committee last night were discussing how they could always ‘answer with statistics’ when Labour goes on a similar attack in the future. But they were largely pleased with the way Cameron conducted himself.

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