Researchers have managed to pinpoint the exact moment in history when public support for Britain’s benefits system began to wane.
According to research published today from the University of Bristol, public attitude toward unemployed people began to harden after Tony Blair announced the New Deal programme for jobseekers in 1999, declaring welfare should be a “hand up, not a hand down”.
Before this time negative comments against the welfare state by a Labour leader would have been regarded as unthinkable, and perhaps unLabour-like. Tony Blair’s took Labour to the right under the guise of ‘New Labour’ and the rest,.. as they say, is history.
Researchers claim that during the 1980’s and most of the 1990’s the majority of people believed that benefit payments were too low, causing severe hardship among the poorest in society, and should be increased.
However, after 1999 a growing number of people adopted the view that benefits were too generous and should be cut. It was around this time that a resurgence in the derogatory ‘scrounger’ rhetoric, more akin to Dickensian Britain, began to resurface and has continued ever-since.
The number of people who agree that the government should be responsible for ensuring unemployed people have enough to live on has fallen to 59%, according to the latest British Social Attitudes Survey.
In 1991, 26% agreed that if benefits were less generous people would ‘stand on their own two feet’. By 2007 this figure had doubled to 52% and now stands at 54%.
Only three-in-ten now believe that benefits are too low and should be increased, compared to three-quarters in 1998 – just one year before ‘New Deal’.
In 1998, three-quarters (74%) wanted to see more spending on benefits for disabled people, compared with 63% in 2008 and just 53% in 2011.
Support for the welfare state has also declined among Labour voters. Around 73% of Labour voters were supportive of Britain’s benefits system in 1987, compared to just 36% in 2011.
Dr Chris Deeming of the University of Bristol said:
“Attitudes towards unemployed people are clearly changing and hardening fast. Solidarity with unemployed citizens, poor people and welfare claimants has declined significantly in recent times”.
Dr Deeming said more people in Britain now see unemployed people as being ‘lazy’ or ‘workshy’ – the language of the right-wing press.
“The British public now sees work aversion and the declining work ethic as one of the main issues facing society. Coupled with this trend is a growing belief that out-of-work benefits are now too generous and act to promote the ‘dependency culture’”, he said.
Public understanding about benefits if often far from the reality. A poll by Ipsos Mori in 2013 revealed that 29% of the British public believed that the UK spends more on Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) than pensions. In reality we spend 15 times more on pensions than JSA.
The public also believe that £24 out of every £100 spent on benefits is claimed fraudulently, compared with official estimates of £0.70 per £100.