Report: Winning support for the safety net

By: Kate Webb  Published: June 2014


From promises of “closing down the something for nothing society,” to vows to “think the unthinkable” and more recent pledges to “make work pay”, successive governments have been exercised by the idea of welfare reform. This desire for reform has occurred symbiotically with a steady decline in public confidence in the current welfare state. Debate has intensified in recent years, with markedly more negative rhetoric and wide-ranging cuts to the housing safety net.

Summary

Public concern with waste and abuse is a challenge for campaigners pressing for a stronger safety net. Shelter would agree with the public that aspects of the safety net are broken, but our evidence points to a system allowing too many to fall through the gaps rather than widespread squandering of support.

Some headway in countering the negative narrative may be made by highlighting the impact of individual reforms and how cuts are making it more likely that people’s lives will spiral downwards if they suffer a drop in income. But the overall momentum for reform is likely to remain, particularly if it targets claimants whose lives are not as easy to relate to (and therefore cuts seem less threatening to the average person).

The long-term decline in support for aspects of the safety net suggests that it would be highly optimistic to simply ride out the current debate and hope that emerging evidence of impacts will shift opinion. Moving beyond a defensive position and successfully strengthening the safety net seems even less likely without engaging with reoccurring public concerns.

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