Coffee House

Ed Miliband vs the working class

14 December 2012

Who’s on the side of the strivers? Is it George Osborne, who’s cutting benefits in real terms for the next three years, which he defends as ‘being fair to the person who leaves home every morning to go out to work and sees their neighbour still asleep, living a life on benefits’? Or is it Ed Balls, who’s opposing the move as Osborne ‘making striving working families pay the price for his economic failure’? Both men are convinced that their stance will help win the votes of low- and middle-income workers. At least one of them is wrong.

Isabel has explained the sources of Labour’s confidence. One is a YouGov poll released on Sunday, showing 42 per cent of ‘C2DEs’ (working class and lower) think benefits should rise at least in line with inflation. But then, 28 per cent of them think they should only rise by 1 per cent a year, and a further 15 per cent think they should be frozen altogether — a total of 43 per cent in favour of real-terms cuts. That’s not resounding support for Osborne’s policy, but it’s not a resounding rejection of it either. More convincing for Labour was an Ipsos MORI poll released yesterday, which (with a differently-worded question and different answer options) showed 69 per cent of the public and 73 per cent of C2DEs rejecting real-terms cuts.

But that Ipsos MORI poll also asked whether respondents felt that various groups ‘are being asked to do too much, too little, or about the right amount’ in response to the economic crisis. Just 28 per cent said ‘welfare claimants’ are suffering too much — including just 27 per cent of those C2DEs. Meanwhile, 34 per cent say they’re doing too little, including 32 per cent of C2DEs. But the most interesting responses are for the group ‘people like you’. Only 30 per cent say they’re being asked to do too much – 15 per cent say ‘too little’ and 52 per cent say ‘about the right amount’. Even the majority of C2DEs say they’re not shouldering too much of the burden.


Labour’s main hope, as Isabel reported, is that those who lose out financially will vote for them in 2015. But YouGov found that just 36 per cent think the measures in the Autumn Statement will make them worse off — 6 per cent say they’ll benefit, while 44 per cent say they won’t make much difference. And even among the C2DEs, slightly more think they’ll be better off (4 per cent) or about the same (40 per cent) than think they’ll lose out (40 per cent).

The point is that the polling on this is not clear-cut. Ipsos MORI’s ’69 per cent against benefit cuts’ figure is worrying for Osborne, but Labour don’t have much evidence for their claim that working benefit recipients will turn on the Tories over this. And besides, we’re only in the early days of a debate that will doubtless rage all the way to 2015. Even if Labour start out with more people backing their stance than the Tories (which the Ipsos MORI poll suggests they do, but the YouGov poll doesn’t), they’re going to have a difficult job keeping it that way as the battle unfolds. Having signed up to the government’s policy of increasing public sector pay by just 1 per cent a year, it’ll be tough for Eds Miliband and Balls to argue that benefits should rise faster. Even now, as they point to Resolution Foundation figures showing that the majority of the hit fall on working households, the riposte is obvious: why should the welfare component of their income rise faster than the work component?

By contrast, the coalition’s position seems more easily defensible. Essentially, they just need to produce this graph from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, showing that by the time of the next election — even with the 1 per cent a year rise — benefits will have gone up by about 21 per cent since 2009, whereas earnings will only have risen by 16 per cent.

It is interesting that both YouGov and Ipsos MORI both asked whether benefits should rise by more or less than inflation. One wonders how different the results would have been if they had asked whether they should rise more quickly or more slowly than wages. That’s certainly how George Osborne will be trying to frame the debate.

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  • ipleb

    A rich Marxist is a Tory! No? No such thing as society! Smash,
    bang, wallop the British working class have been atomised by 30 years of
    identity politics…..

  • Ron Todd

    The class I used to consider myself a member off, the respectable
    working class, has gone still working class but no longer respected Some factions of the ruling class want to use mass immigration to drive down our wages and provide more reliable voting fodder. Others just consider us to be racist, homophobic, islamphobic misogynist, climate deniers unfit for polite company. The underclass no more respect us than the ruling class do, they laugh at us for having to work to get what the political class give them for free and for paying the tax that finance the ruling class’s generosity.

  • Open_Palm

    Mr Jones, allow me to quote Jonathan Portes of NIESR on those numbers (benefits raise vs earnings):

    “The numbers are correct: but they are highly selective… The value of out of work benefits relative to average earnings (and more broadly the incomes of those in work) has fallen steadily over the past three decades, until the recent slight uptick resulting from the recession:”

    Unemployment benefit as a percentage of average weekly earnings has declined by 1/3 since the late 70s. This is because JSA has been indexed to inflation. Indexing benefits to prices has resulted in a substantial reduction in spending on out of work benefits as a proportion of GDP, compared to the alternative of indexing benefits to earnings. The fact is that out-of-work benefit spending only amounts to around 3% of GDP.

    Meanwhile even though earnings have risen much more slowly than prices in the last 5 years, OBR’s own forecasts suggests that will change and will rise about 5% faster. A modest recovery will in time lead to earnings rising significantly faster than prices, and the relative value of out of work benefits will decline again.

    Your argument is true if the OBR’s forecasts are wide of the mark and the economy flatlines with no or negative growth in earnings relative to prices. Surely OBR can’t be THAT wrong.

  • Andy

    What does Miliband know about Work ? He knows nothing of the ‘working class’ because he doesn’t know anyone who actually does work, and who doesn’t live in that Labour ghetto known as Islington. These people make me sick with their patronising crap. He should get into the real world. He wouldn’t last a morning working for me.

    • Ron Todd

      He is trying the Michael Foot gambit pretend to be a working class hero. at least Tony Blair would at times attempa working class accent.

  • Mike Smithson

    If you have a choice between a phone poll and an online one then the former wins every time.

    • modeluprightcitizen

      Not necessarily. It depends very much on the polling methodology used. For example, if you have an open online poll then I agree they’re pretty meaningless because the sample’s not balanced or representative. Certainly compared with those kind of online polls, most phone conducted polls are much more representative and will provide a more accurate snapshot of opinion trends. Of course, there However, if online polling is conducted by using a long-term balanced and representative panel process, such as the one used

  • toco10

    It is the scroungers and new immigrants brought in by the disgraced Labour Government who claim benefits the majority of us have contributed towards for decades that bother us.Pretty much without exception we applaud and support strivers but not those who are paid our hard earned money to vote Labour.Red(‘my Marxist dad used his money and influence to make sure I never had to do a real job’) Ed is erratic and dysfunctional and will call for an independent inquiry if the sun fails to rise tomorrow morning.

    • telemachus

      You may have a glimmer of a point if he stood alone
      But as you see behind him is a man of purpose

      • treborc

        Well i worked for 33 years then had an accident in which my spinal cord was badly damaged , I spent eighteen months in hospital. I was at a labour party meeting in which the MP stated people who do not work should be kicked out of the party. My MP has never worked at anything except being in a trade Union, as an adviser straight to labour to be part of Blair team and now an MP some bloody work.

  • pjackson

    of course you are falling into the trap set by the Tories. Using %’ages when one monetry figure is much lower than other will indeed throw up large variations. The benefits figure starts at £80pw and the average earnings at £200pw.(say).Give them both £10.00 and one shows that’s 12.5%, while the other is only 5%. It costs the same, but the graph is defective in this. Show some realistic data…otherwise we’ll always be dumming down the low earners/benefit recipients because of the %’ages. It’s the cash that counts, not the %. It’s as bad as saying inflation is 5%, so a) gets £4 and b) gets £10…why ? A basket of shopping at (say) £60..that goes up £6.00…costs everybody £6.00.

    • Chris lancashire

      Totally impenetrable pjackson. Return to Labour Control, do not pass Go, do not collect £200.

      • facebook-574311716

        Totally impenetrable? That a percentage of a large amount is bigger than the same percentage of a small amount? Did you bunk off maths at school?

    • Tony Turtle

      But then 1% rise in benefits when the cost of living thanks to inflation is at 2.7% p.a.
      means that benefits are being reduced.
      People who are only allowed to exist on the meagre amount of Social Security they are paid, people, like me who cannot stand for more than 2 minutes, sit still for more than 10 minutes and are told “Go Get A Job Scrounger!”
      All I would ask is “Walk a mile in my shoes” (but only after you buy me a new pair of shoes!), live in constant pain; live, constantly having to work out if you will have the energy to do the menial tasks like shopping or washing up! Oh, and do it all supporting two of you on £111 a week!

  • EJ

    I can’t see any political party that’s on the side of the working class – least of all Labour. The Lib/Lab/Con have conspired to flood the country with immigrants, denying the working classes opportunity at every turn and diminishing the quality of their lives in every respect. If you think that the over-privileged son of a rich Marxist is going to stand up for them you need your head tested.

    • telemachus

      In some ways you are correct the working class does not actually exist any longer.
      However I submit that those used to the lowliest jobs in society now enjoy the fact that initial jobs taken by immigrants are often those jobs often messy and distasteful shunned by the indigenous.
      We all celebrate the blurring of class and the contribution of immigrants to that

      • Sarge

        And we all celebrate your blurring of rational thought with idealogical waffle

        • treborc

          Are you saying the working class exist in labour’s mind, they keep telling us about hard working and the squeezed middle class.

          That’s not the working class the working class are again without a political group.

  • anyfool

    Whether a marginal few in differing bands of people will be moved by minor benefit rises is irrelevant, it will all depend on how the current government handles the next two years, standing still will probably do for them and a big improvement will see them through.

  • AdemAljo


    • Matthew Whitehouse

      Telemachus IS Balls – didnt you know?

      • Andy

        Well he can be hanged with him then.

        • nigel

          or without them

          • Ron Todd

            Or by them

    • telemachus

      I read with a great deal of interest the figures in Jonathans article and they are clearly at best equivocal
      They are also unimportant
      The important consideration here is who has the zeitgeist?
      It is apparent wherever you look that Osborne is shop soiled
      Balls has a freshness and dynamism that will hold us in good stead at the real polls in 2015

      • runskip

        Cooking sherry already Telemachus? Zeitgeist and Balls do not belong in the same sentence. Bullying and Balls go together, like an effing glove!

        • telemachus

          Bullying in the name of a fair society
          The ends justify the means

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