THE BLOG
13/10/2013 18:48 BST | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Three-Quarters Support Benefit Cap - But the Reasons Are All Too Clear

Those who read newspapers or listen to politicians are fed the same diet of anti-claimant rhetoric which bears little resemblance to the grinding reality of life on the dole, which provides only poverty-level income and vulnerability. So here are seven truths about benefits and joblessness to help balance the debate...

Anti-benefit attitudes continue to dominate the UK while a lack of leadership and dishonest representations of unemployed people are allowed to dominate.

We are informed by the Department for Work and Pensions in a press release that can only be described as celebratory, that three-quarters of British people support the benefit cap, and half believe benefits are too high.

The cap limits families on out-of-work benefits to a maximum of £26,000 each year, the average national income.

The government commissioned a survey from polling firm Ipsos Mori which looked at public attitudes to the Benefit Cap in June this year.

It confirms the findings of other studies; bombarded with negative news stories by newspapers and television, and with no major organisation making the case for benefits, the public has turned away from them.

An online survey among 2,017 British adults was used to assess the beliefs of the public, while 500 people who were coming off out-of-work benefits due to finding work were also questioned.

This showed that, for many people, the effects of the cap were not understood.

A far lower number of people (44%) supported it when told that those capped would have to move to cheaper areas, a likely outcome for many in London and the south-east.

The government still has a lot of work to do in informing claimants of the policy, with only 84% having heard of it and a quarter not knowing if they would be affected or not.

More than a third who had been told about it did not understand the letter they had received.

If the aim of the cap was to force people to look harder for work it has failed; only 3% of all those questioned said they had put more effort into looking for work as a result.

This exposes a flaw in the thinking behind the policy.

The current sanctions system is so tough that a jobseeker who wasn't doing everything they could to find work would have their benefits taken away immediately.

Ipsos Mori denied that the cap caused people to get jobs, saying that there may be a "potential relationship between notification or awareness and moving into work, [but] it does not, though, demonstrate a causal link."

Secretary of state for work and pensions Iain Duncan Smith welcomed the findings, saying:

"Today's report makes it clear that the public support setting a limit on benefits and the successful delivery of the benefit cap shows we are committed to returning fairness to the welfare state.

"Claimants affected by the cap need to make decisions about work and housing and what they can afford, just as hardworking families do."

Leaving aside the basis on which the cap is worked out (those families on average earnings usually receive benefits too, but they are not included in the calculation), the findings of the survey point to a lack of plurality of opinions in British public life.

It is revealing that so much support falls away from the benefit cap when people are asked to consider its implications. Those who read newspapers or listen to politicians are fed the same diet of anti-claimant rhetoric which bears little resemblance to the grinding reality of life on the dole, which provides only poverty-level income and vulnerability.

No major organisation provides true balance to this debate; all political parties are signed up in principle to a benefit cap, and that is why UnemployedNet (among others) tries to put the opposing view.

The debate goes round in circles; newspapers carry endless anti-benefit stories, polls show a majority of British people lead by this into anti-benefit attitudes, politicians of all parties respond by hardening their policies to chase popularity and the carousel keeps turning.

It isn't just that the negative view of jobseekers is wrong, that fraud is very rare, or that our benefits are the least generous in western Europe; it isn't just that this view leads to a hardening of attitudes towards some of the poorest and most excluded in our society, it is that the majority of UK citizens never even hear opposing ideas or some of the truth behind the headlines.

So here are seven truths about benefits and joblessness to help balance the debate:

1) Around half of all referrals to foodbanks are because of benefit sanctions or delays.

2) The UK has some of the lowest benefits in Europe - bottom of all the first 15 countries to join the EU.

3) Fraud accounts for only 0.7% of the total benefit bill.

4) Only 2.3% of the benefit bill is spent on unemployment - making the link between the total benefit bill and unemployment is wrong.

5) Sanctions have risen tenfold since 2008, and people have benefits removed for small issues like failing to attend a single appointment at the jobcentre.

6) The government talks about benefits more negatively than ever.

7) More than 50 jobseekers chase each vacancy in some areas - there isn't enough work to go round, and the benefit cap means it is even harder to move to areas with more jobs which tend to be more expensive.

Click on the links to find out the real basis for hardening attitudes.