The welfare state should be a safety net not a comfort blanket

Mark Littlewood writes for the Daily Mail's RightMinds blog

The government seems to have caught the national mood with its plans for a £26,000 per annum benefit cap. The bishops, cross-benchers and Lib Dem rebels may be providing some stiff opposition in the House of Lords, but the general public are lapping it up.

For an administration making (supposedly unpopular) cuts and entering the mid-term of the electoral cycle, when poll ratings traditionally slump, the Conservatives must be both delighted and amazed that their proposals have struck such a chord. Only around 10% of the electorate oppose the principle of an annual cap on benefits. Approximately 80% support the cap being no more than £26,000 and about 60% think Iain Duncan Smith’s policies are, if anything, too generous.

Interestingly, Janan Ganesh of The Economist also pointed out on the BBC this Sunday that David Cameron was taken aback by the reaction of the public on welfare spending when he was on the general election campaign trail last year. Cameron’s determination was to 'detoxify' the Tory brand and to ensure he could not be portrayed as mean-spirited or only interested in protecting the rich. He feared that the Duncan Smith proposals might reinforce the image of the Tories being the 'nasty party'. But to his surprise (and possibly to his delight), he discovered a huge appetite for welfare reform and began to wonder if he was being radical enough.

Opinion polls and anecdotes don’t, of course, automatically make for brilliant public policy decisions. Not only is the devil so often in the detail, but a policy stance that looks attractive in contemplation can be catastrophic in delivery. But it is surely worth considering why the Conservatives seem to have stumbled across the most popular approach to policy pretty much since modern polling began.

Read the rest of the article on the Daily Mail's RightMinds blog.

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