The British believe in contributions, apparently

An intriguing pamphlet from the Policy Network compares attitudes to benefits in Britain, France and Denmark. Their main point is that other countries have a greater commitment to ‘social investment’, but apart from that they also have material on social attitudes to benefits and services. Question 1 asks whether benefits hould be targeted at those in need, confined to those who have contributed or available to every citizen. In Britain, 48% of people said that pensions should be for those who contributed; 41%, social housing; 49%, unemployment benefits. Then question 2 asks what the main response of the government should be to financial problems: and only 24% say that benefits should be limited to people who have contributed. There is a fairly marked discrepancy here, which might be taken in three ways. One possibility, though I think it’s unlikely, is that people thought rapidly about counter-examples. A second explanation is that the responses defend what people suppose to be true at present – pensions are contributory, unemployment benefits used to be, and even if social housing has never been, some public authorities used to house people according to their ‘merits’, including contributions such as military service. The third explanation, which is most likely, is that the opinion is soft-centred, and there is something in the way the questions are worded that has led to an inconsistent response.

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