Majority support government control of how people spend benefit payments

New polling released by the think tank Demos shows the majority of people believe the government should start controlling how welfare recipients spend their money.

Whilst 6 in 10 people (59%) agreed the government should control what people spend universal credit on, the figure rises sharply for certain recipient groups and for the purchase of specific items.

• An overwhelming 9 out of 10 people (87%) said at least one group of welfare recipients should have their benefits controlled. 77% said yes to monitoring people with a substance or gambling addiction and 69% for those with a criminal or anti-social history. These figures rose to 82% and 75% respectively among respondents aged over 65.
• Over two-thirds of respondents (68%) agreed the government should stop all recipients from spending their benefits on gambling.
• Over half (54%) agreed with the government stopping people spending their benefits on unhealthy items such as cigarettes or alcohol.
• Just under half (46%) opposed benefits being spent on branded goods such as Nike trainers etc,
• Approximately 4 in 10 people backed a ban on buying junk food (38%) and over a third (35%) on holidays.

The findings are from a survey of 2,052 adults that will be discussed later this evening at a high profile Labour Party Conference event and again next week at Conservative Conference, debating the implications for welfare reform and whether the ethical dilemmas could open a Pandora’s box of ever-increasing government intervention.

This survey forms part of a wider piece of research supported by MasterCard, exploring the role that prepaid cards might play in the delivery of direct payments and benefits. It comes at a crucial time as the Government prepares to launch a new ‘Universal Credit’ in autumn 2013 that will replace existing income-based benefits and tax credits.

The results also build upon the findings of the recent British Social Attitudes Survey, which found the percentage of people who believe governments have a responsibility to the unemployed to have enough to live on has plummeted from 85% of voters in 2001 to just 59% in 2011.

The Demos survey also found:

• Over 65s and, somewhat surprisingly, 18-24 year-olds were the two most likely age groups across all questions to call for government controls, suggesting a hardening position towards benefits claimants and the welfare state more generally among younger generations.
• Various responses illustrated a strong correlation along traditional class boundaries. AB socioeconomic groups were most likely to agree to control of how benefits are spent (61%) whilst DE groups were least likely (49%). People in the north east were also most likely to oppose state-monitored spending.
• The most common reason given for why benefits should be controlled was because “it’s the state’s money after all” - 27% of AB class groups and 14% of DE groups cited this explanation.
• The level of public willingness to monitor welfare recipients was broadly similar for those receiving personal budgets for their community care with 61% agreeing with government controls. Men were substantially more in agreement than women (67% vs 55%); the primary reason given by both was “because some people won’t spend it wisely”.
• Only 1 in 4 think direct payment of housing benefit is a good idea; highlighting a sceptical response to the Government’s current pilot of the scheme.

Demos’s Deputy Director Claudia Wood said: 'These findings paint a worrying picture of a nation divided between welfare claimants and the rest.

“It suggests that many now view the welfare state as a form of charity towards the poor rather than social insurance for all. If the majority still saw the welfare state as an insurance scheme - a contract of protection in return for contribution - then people would be more supportive of autonomy for benefit claimants.”

She added: “The government’s rhetoric around 'problem families' and ‘scroungers’ is clearly shaking people’s faith in the welfare state. Those wishing to restore it will need to find a response that reassures a nervous public.”

Marion King, President of MasterCard UK and Ireland, said “The roll out of direct payments and the introduction of Universal Credit have the potential to increase financial inclusion, especially if the combined payment is loaded onto a pre-paid card. This is because the card will give access to more ways to pay for goods and services while simultaneously enabling individuals to budget and save. Prepaid cards can also provide local authorities with the ability to monitor and control spending where appropriate.”

“It is important that the subject of control be discussed, because some local authorities are already using this technology in a limited fashion. This is no longer a hypothetical debate.”

NOTES TO EDITORS

The polling, conducted by Populus Data Solutions, interviewed 2,052 adults between 15-17 August 2012. A comprehensive PDF version of the poll questions and findings can be downloaded here.

Demos will be hosting a high-profile event at Labour Party Conference tonight (7pm - Mon Oct 1) discussing the implications of these results. Full information, including panelists, can be found here: http://www.demos.co.uk/events/spendingitwiselylab

Information on next week’s Demos event at Conservative Party Conference can be found here: http://www.demos.co.uk/events/spendingitwiselycons
This work was supported by MasterCard. MasterCard (NYSE: MA), www.mastercard.com, is a global payments and technology company. It operates the world’s fastest payments processing network, connecting consumers, financial institutions, merchants, governments and businesses in more than 210 countries and territories. MasterCard’s products and solutions make everyday commerce activities – such as shopping, traveling, running a business and managing finances – easier, more secure and more efficient for everyone. Follow us on Twitter @MasterCardNews, join the discussion on the Cashless Conversations Blog and subscribe for the latest news.

Media contact

Rob Macpherson

rob.macpherson@demos.co.uk

020 7367 6325