Public start to Wake Up

So much news, so little time.

Most of you will know I’ve been a teensy weensy bit bit busy these last few weeks.

But on Tuesday, the BBC reported on the latest British Social Attitudes Report. This is no one-off YouGov poll, the survey tracks the nation’s attitudes over time, interviewing 3000 people in 2012 for more than an hour.

The latest report showed that attitudes towards welfare payments have softened considerably over the last 12 months. Whilst 51% still felt that benefits were too high, this figure had fallen from 62% in the previous year. The proportion of people who felt that benefit cuts would damage too many people’s lives rose 5% from 42% last year to 47% this year.

With UN special raconteurs calling for the Bedroom Tax to be scrapped, and official government reports showing that IDS has lied yet again about the rollout of Universal Credit, this might seem like a small point to blog about.

But In my opinion it is almost all that really matters. The only way ministers have been able to do what they’ve done is by misleading the public. As a TUC report showed last year, the gulf between what people think social security payments do and what they actually do is vast. The convenient myth that out of work benefits are crippling our country was shown to be just that – a myth with just 3% of the entire social security budget going towards Jobseekers Allowance whilst a whopping 47% is spent on pensions.

Since the day I typed my first word on this blog, all that has mattered to me is breaking down these mis-conceptions. Until the public really understand what benefits are for, who they are paid to and why they are so fundamentally important, MPs could create a false dialogue that was almost impossible to challenge.

Campaigners such as myself have spent long hours convincing MPs – in this case, particularly Labour MPs, that by 2015, disability cuts would be the most toxic issue in the country. We used evidence, we showed them just how many people would be affected by various changes. We told our stories, we showed the country what happens when real people, real lives are affected.

Sometimes, it has seemed as though no-one wanted to listen. Sure, we can persuade some MPs, some journalists, but until there is a sea change in public opinion, as an election hoves into view, MPs would still feel secure to “go hard on Welfare”, to use us as political pawns in a muscle-flexing-fest of toughness.

This survey gives us the clearest indication so far, that whilst we may still lose too many battles, we are winning the war. As people up and down the country begin to know someone who has been unfairly affected by the coalition welfare changes – a brother with cancer told he is fit for work, a Gran left in her own mess as her carer hours are slashed, a daughter forced to move away with her disabled child due to the Bedroom Tax – we inch slowly closer, every day, to breaking through.

There are two more years to go. This survey actually reflects opinion from 2012. Between then and now barely a day has gone by without someone exposing a new failure at the DWP or a new life destroyed by unfair cuts. I’d be astonished if the next survey didn’t show even sharper increases in support.

This awful battle can be demoralising. It’s hard to bear the onslaught of misery, fear and suffering. But studies like this one show us as clearly as possible that it is worth it. We are winning and every day brings us closer to the end of these dark, dark, days.

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