By Bob Duncan
A poll measuring public attitudes to welfare shows Scots have less faith in the Westminster government to protect them in difficult times than those in any other part of the UK.
The report “European welfare states after the crisis” from the Policy Network and Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) is a quantitative study of people’s attitudes towards welfare in the UK, France and Denmark and compares attitudes to reform.
The poll, commissioned by the Policy Network and IPPR, was taken by YouGov and was based on 1,751 respondents from across the UK, with 185 coming from Scotland.
A breakdown of the polling data shows that people in Scotland were significantly less likely than those from elsewhere to believe the welfare system offers sufficient protection for people who face the prospect of becoming unemployed, being evicted, getting sick or retiring from work.
The report also concludes that “Across the advanced democracies electoral participation is falling fastest among the young and the least affluent, which gives better off and older voters greater influence in the political process.
“Spending cuts in the UK, for instance, have disproportionately affected the young and the poor – precisely those groups that vote with least frequency, while universal benefits for the elderly have been protected.”
The Scottish Government recently established an expert group to advise on how a fairer welfare system can reflect and uphold the values of people in an independent Scotland, protect the vulnerable and support Scottish households.
Commenting, SNP MSP Kevin Stewart – who sits on the Welfare Reform Committee – said:
“This poll makes crystal clear that people in Scotland simply do not have faith in the current Westminster operated welfare system.
“People in Scotland are significantly less likely than those in the rest of the UK to believe that the current welfare system provides adequate protection when people need it most.
“As this report highlights, Westminster’s spending cuts have disproportionately affected the young and the poor, despite the Scottish Government’s best efforts to mitigate the worst of the damage with the powers we currently have.
“Why does the Westminster Government wrongly persist in believing that these are the groups who should bear the brunt of their austerity agenda? It is scarcely any wonder that this polling shows people in Scotland simply do not have faith in Westminster’s system.
“Instead of people in Scotland being forced to rely upon a Westminster welfare system that is being aggressively cut back and failing thousands people who need support, we need a system that truly reflect Scotland’s values.
“With the powers of an independent Scotland we can build that kind of system and ensure that the priorities of people in Scotland are truly reflected in our welfare system.
“It is only a Yes vote in next year’s referendum that will secure that opportunity for Scotland and restore people’s faith that they will receive the support they need from the rest of society when they are facing difficult times.”
The new survey follows the growing row over the so called ‘Bedroom Tax’ due to be introduced by Westminster. The new tax will see people in social housing losing up to £22 per week if they have a spare bedroom.
Critics have argued that many vulnerable people could find themselves being evicted if they are unable to pay their rent and have described the legislation as worse than the poll tax.
The Bedroom Tax is part of a wider package of reforms to the welfare state being introduced by the UK coalition government. The Scottish government has produced analysis it claims shows that some families could be worse off to the tune of thousands of pounds as a result of benefit cuts.
Scottish housing and welfare minister Margaret Burgess said: “Taken together, these changes amount to a concerted and substantial financial assault on having and raising children.
“I find it incredibly frustrating that they are being forced upon Scotland, against the Scottish Government’s will, and against the will of a great deal of Scottish society.”
However Scottish Labour MSP Drew Smith criticsed the Scottish government, speaking to the Scotsman newspaper he said: “Scots are trapped between two governments with the wrong priorities.”
John Dickie, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said children in Scotland would be affected by the changes.
“We already know that growing up in poverty means children are at greater risk of health problems,” he said.
“Increasing the depth of that poverty and pushing more children into poverty is inevitably going to have an impact on their health and knock-on effects on their ability to get the most out the school system and education, affecting their long-term life chances as a result.”
A copy of the recently published Policy Network/IPPR report can be viewed at http://www.ippr.org/images/media/files/publication/2013/01/Welfare%20States%20after%20the%20Crisis_10272.pdf
The YouGov poll of 1,751 people across the UK commissioned for the Policy Network/IPPR report asked the following questions and can be viewed at http://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/q2gwnjvttm/YG-IPPR-Archive-results-090812-Role-of-state-UK.pdf: