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The View From Benefits Street

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While few political commentators, bloggers and pundits have yet to offer a view on Channel 4's Benefits Street, a programme dubbed 'poverty porn' by critics, there is one voice largely missing from the debate: that of those receiving benefits across Britain.

Whether seen as a damning indictment of Britain's benefit culture, a call to action to do more to eliminate poverty, or simply a piece of exploitative documentary making, the show is certainly provoking argument. Yet members of the public receiving benefits and living on 'Benefits Streets' across the country are rarely asked for their opinion.

So, over this last weekend, Populus interviewed more than 2000 people drawn from across the country and asked them a series of questions about their perceptions of benefits. We then analysed the results according to those who received any of ten common benefits like Jobseeker's Allowance, Disability Living Allowance, and Child Benefit.

On some areas, the views of those on benefits very closely matches those of the wider public. About three-in-five of all Britons agreed that large numbers of people falsely claimed benefits. Amongst those claiming Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit and Income Support it was around that same number - 60% - that agreed with the statement. Indeed, across nine of the ten types of benefits we identified, half or more recipients agreed that large numbers of people claiming benefits did so falsely.

Looking specifically at those seeking work, 37% of those claiming Jobseeker's Allowance agreed that "Most on the dole are fiddling in one way or another". This figure is slightly higher than that for the public as a whole (which stands at 34%). Asked whether most unemployed people could find a job if they really wanted to, two-in-five of those receiving Jobseeker's Allowance agreed. This figure is only a little lower than that for the public as a whole (49%). Those who most strongly believe that claimants fiddle their benefits or could find work if they really wanted to are, perhaps surprisingly, those who receive Working Tax Credit (a form of benefit for those in work but with low incomes).

There is one area, however, where those who receive benefits give noticeably different answers to those who don't. Half of the public as a whole fear that cutting benefits would damage lives. Amongst those who receive benefits, this fear is significantly greater. 80% of those on Housing Benefit and Income Support fear cuts would damage lives, and 70% of those receiving Jobseeker's Allowance and Disability Living Allowance say the same.

There's evidence here to suggest that those who receive benefits share many of the concerns of the wider public about abuse and misuse of the welfare support system. Where views differ, it is in regard to the importance of welfare payments and the likely impact of any cuts.

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