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By Peter Hoskin
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Oh
look, the Welfare Uprating Bill is published today. That’s the Bill which
formalises the Government’s plan to increase many benefits by only 1 per cent a
year, rather than by the rate of inflation. It’s the Bill which has given us
what will surely be one of the defining
dividing lines
of this Parliament, as well as of the next election.

Which
probably helps explain why today’s papers feature not one
but two
polls examining the Bill’s provisions. Let’s start with the more eye-catching
of the pair.

The
Populus poll commissioned by the Conservatives, and written up in
the Sun
, is wholly encouraging for the Government. The tenor of it is
captured by its opening question. Respondents are asked to say which of two
propositions is closer to their own views. The first is broadly the Tories’
approach:

“The best
way for the Government to help working people on low incomes is to let them
keep more of the money they earn in the first place, by taking less in income tax
— and by freezing Fuel Duty.”

And
the second Labour’s:

“The best
way for the Government to help working people on low incomes is to continue to
take the same amount of income tax as before, but give them some money back in
the form of tax credits.”

And
the results? 81 per cent of people are more in favour of the first than the
second — and it’s a level of support that carries across genders, regions,
political affiliations and social classes. 81 per cent of women prefer option
one; 79 per cent of the least well-off DE social grade; 82 per cent of public
sector workers; 76 per cent of Labour voters; and so on and so on.

Next,
the poll puts three further statements to respondents, and asks them whether
they agree or disagree. Here are the questions and results in graphic form:

Graph 1 Graph 2 Graph 3

It’s
worth noting that all of these questions imply, as is true, that the cap will
affect in-work benefits as well as out-of-work benefits — and still support for
the Government’s proposals is strong.

So
how does all that square against the ComRes
poll
featured on the front page of the
Independent
, under the headline “Less than half back Osborne on benefits”? Isn’t
that altogether less encouraging for the Chancellor?

Well,
the first thing to note is that even the ComRes poll shows more support for
Osborne’s policy than there is opposition to it. It asks one question: whether
respondents agree or disagree with the statement that “The Government is right
to limit the rise on benefits and tax credits to only 1 per cent for the next
three years”. And the overall result is that 49 per cent of people agree, against
43 per cent who disagree. Those groups who don’t support the measure (e.g. 57
per cent of 18-24 year-olds disagree with it) are more than balanced out by
those who do (e.g. 56 per cent of C2s).

But
why are the levels of support lower than in the first poll? Some of it may be
down to different basic methodologies: Populus’s is an online poll with a sample
size of 2,053 people; ComRes’s was done by telephone, with a sample size of
1,000. But I suspect the main reason is the wording of the questions. The Independent’s
ComRes poll asks a blunt question: do you agree with this vaguely bad-sounding
thing that’s about to happen? Whereas the Tories’ Populus poll provides more context:
deficit reduction, wage growth, etc. The Populus poll, in a small way, does
something to inform its respondents.

True,
the picture becomes muddier when we consider last week’s polls on the matter
from Ipsos MORI and YouGov, but my former colleague Jonathan Jones has already
written a useful
post
suggesting how they may not be as bad for Mr Osborne as they first
appeared. Suffice to say that the main point from all of these polls is that
context matters — and that will suit the Government just fine. After all, it’s
not as though they’re going implement this policy without arguing for it.

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