EXCLUSIVE: Majority of Lib Dem members back Coalition’s benefits cap

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Some 570 party members responded, and we’re publishing the full results.

59% of Lib Dem members back benefits cap at £26,000 or lower

LDV asked: Under the Coalition government’s proposal the cap on benefits will apply to the total sum of all benefits a household receives, including income support, jobseekers allowance, child benefit and housing benefit. The government is setting the maximum at £26,000, the average earnings of a British family after tax. What do you think the maximum amount should be set at?

    0% – £10,000 per year or less
    2% – £15,000 per year or less
    10% – £20,000 per year or less
    5% – £23,000 per year or less
    42% – £26,000 per year or less
    4% – £28,000 per year or less
    4% – £30,000 per year or less
    1% – £35,000 per year or less
    1% – £40,000 per year or less
    25% – Not applicable, I don’t think there should be a maximum amount
    6% – Don’t know / No opinion

A plurality — 42% — of Lib Dem members back the Coalition’s £26,000 benefits cap, but interestingly a further 17% of our respondents would have gone further than the government: one-in-10 said the cap should have been £20,000 a year. Even so, this places Lib Dem members out of step with the party’s supporters. According to a YouGov poll, 31% of Lib Dem voters would set the cap at £20,000 or lower.

In total, 69% of Lib Dem members in our sample believed there should be a benefits cap. A significant minority, however — one-in-four of those surveyed — rejected the principle of a cap at all. There were a significant number of comments advocating regional variations for the cap in order to reflect the higher private rent costs for those living in London in particular.

However, 54% back Lords amendment to exclude child benefit from cap

LDV asked: The House of Lords voted against the government’s benefit cap, passing an amendment that will exclude child benefit from the £26,000 cap. This means that it would be possible for a family with children to receive more than £26,000 in benefits a year. Do you support or oppose this amendment to the Bill?

    54% – Support
    39% – Oppose
    7% – Don’t know / No opinion

A majority of Lib Dem members agreed with Paddy Ashdown (among other Lib Dem peers) who voted a fortnight ago to amend the Coalition’s benefits cap policy in this way. However, a large minority — four-in-10 members — rejected the Lords’ amendment, with many arguing that it would undermine the principle of the cap. Here’s a flavour of some of the comments received:

I think it’s definitely right to maintain child benefit as a separate entity. Visiting the sins of the parents (if sins they even be) upon the children is plain wrong.

Child Benefit has been around a lot longer than many other benefits. I think there should be a cap for child benefit, but it shouldbe seperate from the rest of the benefits

I would see a case for suppporting this amendment IF the figure of £26,000 without child benefit was reduced appropriately. £26,000 net of tax for a childless household is too much in my view compared to likely earnings for those in work.

I can see the arguments both ways, but when it comes down to it it isn’t the kids’ fault and they shouldn’t suffer.

Those who are responsible and only have the children they can afford to support should not subsidise those who have children that they cannot themselves afford.

  • Over 1,200 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. Some 570 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 31st January and 4th February.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past accurately predicted the winners of the contest for Party President, and the result of the conference decision to approve the Coalition agreement.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
  • * Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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    20 Comments

    • £26,000 net of tax for a childless household is too much in my view compared to likely earnings for those in work.”

      This shows a common misconception of just how much people on benefits are receiving at the moment. The only people who are going to be receiving that much are poor, unemployed families who have a lot of children, often with one or more disabled members. And they need that much money.

      Anyone who’s ever lived on JSA and housing benefit alone, or knows someone who has, will know that those people receive a pitifully small amount to live on, and it does annoy me that the debate can be skewed this way.

    • paul barker 8th Feb '12 - 5:16pm

      Ive sent a lot of my life on benefits & they are enough to live on, a bit more than enough. They are not enough to support an addiction to drugs or partying but who would seriously argue they should be ?

    • paul barker 8th Feb '12 - 5:17pm

      Er, read spent for sent.

    • ” The government is setting the maximum at £26,000, the average earnings of a British family after tax”
      This is not true. 26K is the average income of households, not families, and includes all those in receipt of benefits. The earnings of the average British family are considerably higher. The figure of 26K is deliberately misleading.

      “What do you think the maximum amount should be set at?”
      Do you think that is a neutral way of asking whether people support the cap or not? When you ask your second more straightforward question the answer is inconsistent with the first. If you remove child benefit from the cap then no-one would ever reach the 26K mark. So in effect 54% of members are saying they don’t support the cap. Or at least that they want the cap set at such a level so as it doesn’t apply to anyone.

    • [email protected] 8th Feb '12 - 7:56pm

      When I worked as a computer programmer in a derivatives trading firm in the City of London, after tax and with two good bonuses I got almost exactly 26K in the first year. That wasn’t enough to live anywhere with a decent tube connection, I got the train in from zone 3, yet I was paying for people to live in zone 1. Their income was determined on the basis of need, yet my tax and NI weren’t. How much did I get in the second year? As a non-belonger, with no prospect of ever being able to afford to raise a family in London I left and took my skills abroad.

    • Matthew Huntbach 8th Feb '12 - 9:55pm


      LDV asked: Under the Coalition government’s proposal the cap on benefits will apply to the total sum of all benefits a household receives, including income support, jobseekers allowance, child benefit and housing benefit. The government is setting the maximum at £26,000, the average earnings of a British family after tax

      This looks very much like a question worded in order to get the answer it got. There are a couple of weasely bits in it, which, sorry Stephen, but I have to say this – disgust me. It’s the sort of trickery I’d expect from the Tories and the right-wing press, I’d expect better of Liberal Democrats.

      First of all “household receives” – well, actually, no, the household does not receive it, when benefit payments are this high it is because the household lives in private rented accommodation – the landlord receives it. Sadly, much of the debate on this subject has almost ignored the fact that THIS is the real issue. Anyone who thinks the family has 26K cash should try looking at what the private rents are for small family houses in their area. A thousand a month is fairly standard across south-east England – so the cap is 14K after housing benefit is that is the case. How many of thise answering were aware this was the biggest issue here?

      Secondly, “the average earnings of a British family after tax”. Why put it that way? It makes it sound as if the family are being paid more than the average earner, but it ignores the fact that families who earn also get various benefits on top of their earnings. It’s a false comparison.

      There’s been a lot of stupid comments in this debate (i mean nationwide not in LD circles) which suggest many are supposing 26K is some sort of norm rather than an exceptionally high amount which only a few in exceptional circumstances may receive. It seems to me to be quite obvious there may be extraordinary cases where the payments mount up, including special medical requirements and the like. To make this clear, perhaps the question should have had the words “regardless of any needs factors” after the “£26,000″ just to alert people to what this is really about.

      Whoever it was that wrote “Those who are responsible and only have the children they can afford to support should not subsidise those who have children that they cannot themselves afford” should answer the question “So what would you have done with the kids?” Starve them? Shoot them? Send them out to earn money as prostitutes? I mean this seriously – just what?

    • Barry George 8th Feb '12 - 10:22pm

      I agree with Mathew that the problem is in the wording of the question…. Before drawing any conclusions from the data I would advise people to watch this clip… Also posted by Stephen…

      http://www.libdemvoice.org/ldvideo-understanding-how-opinion-polls-work-yes-ministerstyle-24948.html

    • Barry George 8th Feb '12 - 10:26pm

      Sadly it appears the link no longer works …. but you can watch it here

    • Barry George 8th Feb '12 - 10:27pm

      oops didnt think it would put the whole video in the link …. sorry :-)

    • Richard Swales 8th Feb '12 - 10:50pm

      @Matthew – What happens to the kids of working people then? Working people eventually reach the point where they can’t afford to have any more kids without it costing a lot more (i.e. for housing). But we don’t count do we? Nobody does a needs assessment on us and cuts our tax bill because we have a big family, an expensive commute or a taste for living in central London.

      When I was working in the South-East the idea of living in an actual house rather than a flat was a distant dream. Would I have cared if someone whose house I was paying for was left with only 14K per year spending money? By the time I had paid my tax, NI, rent, travel card, student loan and student fees (OpenU) it’s much more than I had left, so no, I wouldn’t have cared at all, and almost any employed voter is going to feel the same.

      That we don’t have a clear party line in favour of this is why the Tories are picking up all the credit and leaving us with nothing.

    • Matthew Huntbach 9th Feb '12 - 12:00am

      Richard Swales

      When I was working in the South-East the idea of living in an actual house rather than a flat was a distant dream. Would I have cared if someone whose house I was paying for was left with only 14K per year spending money?

      So, instead of starting with the welfare system, let’s attack the factors that are pushing up house prices. That’s my point – I want there to be honesty about THIS being the big thing pushing up benefits bills. If there was modest cost-only housing available for everyone, as there was when I was growing up in Sussex and my family were allocated a small council house which in those days was the norm for anyone starting a family, we wouldn’t have such high benefit bills. Honesty about this means if we are to support decent family life with family housing for all who need it, we have to take away the profiteering element that has so pushed up house prices – and been the key factor behind our economy being smashed up (because it has turned investment away from what is productive and put it instead into the semi-Ponzi house price boom).

      If we won’t do this, well, I think the question I asked and you did not answer is a reasonable one. The kids exist, you may wish they didn’t, but they do. What WOULD you do with them?

    • Richard – working people can claim working tax credit, child tax credit, council tax benefit, and housing benefit, as well as child benefit. If you have a large family, and/or are the private rented sector and on a low to moderate income you will qualify for these benefits. Go to turn2us online benefits checker to get a sense of what you would get in different circumstances.

    • The government and this survey have been very clever by making this argument about the cap which affects a tiny percentage of those on benefits. If you asked most Lib Dems if it was right that disabled people, nurses, teachers, police officers, fire-fighters etc, most with kids, should have their benefit cut by hundreds of pounds a month, you might get a very different answer. £18 billion is a lot of money being taken from a lot of people!

    • To be fair to Stephen, and the Lib Dem Voice team as a whole, I doubt this survey question was designed in some secretive way to elicit a specific answer. It may have been badly worded, but please don’t assume the worst of people who run this website in a pretty even handed manner.

    • Whether or not the questions are well worded these polls don’t really tell us anything anyway. The more active members will probably be those in support of the coalition with perhaps a small group who are actively against it. Many left-leaning liberal democrats may either have given up their membership or will simply not be motivated in these polls. There is no real evidence that these polls are representative of the opinion of the party or (In particular) its voters as a whole, at this moment in time.

    • http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-16812185?postId=111601298#comment_111601298

      The above link which I have bookmarked from the Members’ Forum gives an idea of family life above the proposed cap.
      After all the debate on this site , including the many comments made by Tim Leunig and others recommending people to look at a benefits checker and arguing over numbers, here is a sample case which I find rather more illuminating.

    • Richard Swales 9th Feb '12 - 11:52pm

      @Tim Leunig

      Ok, I tried putting in that 34000 gross salary that would lead to 26000 net. With my current circumstances (2 kids and a wife at home), if we lived in the UK we would get 33.70 child benefit and 10.43 child tax credit, so we would have 28K per year to live on not 26K. Sorry, no, I still don’t see how I could bring up a family in London on that and I don’t see why I should be forced pay for someone to have more than I have – or even anything close to what I have. For post-Browne report graduates the figures would look even worse.

      @Matthew – paying 500K for a house and putting benefit claimants in it is only “profiteering” (by which I assume you mean rational and profitable) if the government is willing to pay unlimited housing benefit. The problem with housing though is demand outstrips supply. The South-East particularly is overpopulated, the boom didn’t lead to lots of new construction (as in Ireland) because there was nowhere to build (which is also going to be a problem with new social housing), suggesting that the prices actually were rational and will make there way back up there overtime. If we could reduce the population of the South East by 1 million then it might start to look a bit better. We should consider moving almost all the government jobs elsewhere for a start.

      As for “what about the kids”, well it’s like a game of chicken isn’t it? Either we decide that there does eventually come a point at which a family can’t afford more kids, or we pay for an unlimited number. At the moment it seems that your aristocracy (by which I mean people with above average income derived not from work or trade but from the force-based apparatus of the state) are able to have unlimited numbers of children, whereas working people very quickly reach the point at which they can’t afford more.
      I go out and work 12 hour days for my kids, in a job that didn’t exist but I made for myself over a summer by delivering tens of thousands of leaflets in 30-35 degree heat, and I do it to try to make them and I better off. I’m well aware that despite this, a large number of party members would define fairness (as distinct from expedience) as being a situation in which my kids had no more than anyone else’s and my desire to work only for them as evidence of an unfair nature. My response to this is that your desire to go out and work for someone else’s children is your own business and you are welcome to donate to them as much as you want (a voluntary solution), but it doesn’t give you the right to put your hand into a third person’s pocket (a force-based solution).

      One area I would be willing to give a lot more ground on would be with people who have historically paid more into the system than they have so far taken out, but need the system now as a temporary safety-net. I would go as far as to have separate “safety-net” and “lifestyle” caps, benefit rates, claiming lengths and everything. This was hit home to me a few years ago when a family man I know in his late fifties, had the misfortune to lose his job, but still got the same 6 months of (the local equivalent of) JSA, despite having paid in continuously for more than 30 years up to that point.

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