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The public don't want to see cuts to benefits - politicians should listen

Since July, there has been a steady drip of news that the UK government won’t raise benefits in line with inflation this year. With a General Election expected in 2024, there is alleged pressure from Tory MPs that they must offer tax cuts, and this is one measure that could free up money to make it possible.

As the Conservative Party holds its party conference this weekend in Manchester, possibly the last one before a General Election, Save the Children are making it clear that such a move would hurt thousands of families still in the throes of the punishing cost-of-living crisis.

While the cost of living has affected everyone, it is hitting those least able to withstand it the hardest. Those on low incomes, who rely more on social security, have seen higher rates of inflation than those on higher incomes. Larger families have been hit particularly badly, and this has been exacerbated by the two-child limit and the fact that the cost of living payments have been paid on a flat-rate basis, with no extra support based on family size.

Children in low-income families have suffered so much in these past few years, with less food to go round, fewer toys and opportunities to play, explore and have the same experiences as their wealthier friends. What families need is more support – a substantial increase to benefits to meet rising costs, or an extension of the cost-of-living payments, paid according to family size.

What is the UK government proposing?

Instead, the government is proposing to uprate benefits by less than what families are owed. A difference of one or two percentage points is hard to imagine, and easy to dismiss as something that will not make a huge difference to people’s lives. But these percentage points translate to real money that will be taken out of families’ already over-stretched budgets.  

The average (mean) award paid to couples with children on Universal Credit was £1,065 in May 2022. For single families with children, it was £1,057. A difference of one or two percentage points would mean around £127 - £260 less in families’ pockets over the course of 2024-25. We cannot continue down a path of reducing the budgets of those on the lowest incomes – if this was allowed to continue, within a few years families would be £500 out of pocket. Benefits have seen a real-terms cut over the last ten years – we need to rectify this, not perpetuate it.

What the public want

And crucially, we can show today that the public don’t want to see cuts to benefits. Research carried out by focaldata for Save the Children found that nearly three-quarters (71%) of the public want benefits to be protected, and for those who voted Conservative in 2019, 69% want benefits to be protected.

These results from a poll of 4,000 people fly in the face of the prevailing political winds heading into Conservative party conference this weekend. While the welfare system might not be the hot topic on everyone’s list as they wander around Manchester’s Central Convention Complex, it is worth the party remembering that one of their highly trailed economic fixes might not even be what the public at large want.  

For any political party, taking note of the public mood is essential and a representative sample of 4,000 people provides a decent snapshot into how they are feeling about the welfare system. If the majority of the public want benefits like Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits protected it would be sensible to listen. 

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