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The BBC reports "softening attitudes on benefits" - but the polling numbers say the opposite

By Mark Wallace
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Yesterday I looked at new polling suggesting the young are more radical than their elders when it comes to the welfare state. Today, the British Social Attitudes survey has been released (play with the interactive data charts here), an annual orgy of data for those interested in such things.

To read the BBC, you'd think it was full of bad news for Conservatives. "British Social Attitudes Report finds softening attitudes to benefits", yells the headline

As is so often the case, though, it's the still, small voice that holds the truth and the headline that holds the wishful thinking. The data, and the trends over time in particular, don't show a "softening" - if anything, they show the opposite.

For example, here is a graph showing two of the BSA's findings on welfare over the last thirty years. The grey line is those who think "the Government should spend more on welfare", while the black line is those who think "most benefit recipients don't deserve help""

Welfare 2
The two trends are quite clear - despite "spend more on welfare" carrying the approval of fashionable opinion and "most benefit recipients don't deserve help" carrying some social stigma.

If that isn't enough to convince you, check this next graph out. Here we have a comparison between the percentage who agree "unemployment benefits are too low" (the purple line) and the percentage who agree that "if welfare was less generous people would stand on their own two feet" (the red line):

Welfare 1
The BBC don't report any false numbers, but they are highly selective.

For example, they report a fall (to 51 per cent) in those who think benefits are too high - but neglect to mention that those who think benefits are too low are in a small minority of 22 per cent. The proportion who think they are neither, ie that the level is about right, is 17 per cent - the highest rate in a decade. 

The public are still on Iain Duncan Smith's side when it comes to welfare - no matter how much his critics might wish otherwise.


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