The drivers: What drives public attitude towards welfare?
by Emily Fu
Emily Fu, Associate Director at social research agency TNS BMRB, examined the emotional drivers of public attitudes towards housing benefit. She presented a strong image of the pyramid of public perception of deserving and undeserving poor. At the top of the pyramid, as the public sees it, are the small numbers of deserving poor – the elderly and disabled. In the middle are single parents and working families on low incomes and short-term job-seekers. At the wider end of the pyramid are the masses of undeserving poor – the work-shy, non-working immigrants on benefits and fraudulent claimants. Needless to say, what happens in real life is the inverse of the pyramid of public perception.
Emily’s research also highlighted a couple of depressing counter-intuitive factors. Rational arguments about welfare – also known as facts – not only fail to persuade people but often serve to entrench existing prejudices. And proximity to claimants – living in communities with a higher proportion of people receiving benefits – actually serves as a negative influence on attitudes.
Exposure levels of both the ‘very deserving’ and ‘very undeserving’ poor are high – their stories feature prominently in the press. However, there is little coverage of those in the middle section of the pyramid; people that should and do receive benefits but are in no way newsworthy. Emily suggested that greater discussion of this ‘hidden middle’ and ‘people like me’ – could help to shift the debate away from heuristic thinking about welfare.
Next presentation – Kate Bell – Where next for anti-poverty campaigners?