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The benefits debate: Is the public softening?

By politics.co.uk staff

Opponents of the government plans to cut benefits were celebrating today after polling suggested a change in the public perception of George Osborne's policies.

In what could prove a campaign-defining change in attitudes, an Ipsos MORI poll for the Evening Standard showed 58% of the public back Ed Miliband's opposition to the one per cent rise in welfare payments.

George Osborne had calculated that Labour's opposition to the move - which amounts to a real-terms two per cent cut - would put it on the wrong side of the argument.

But the survey suggests public attitudes are softening, especially since it was revealed a majority of claimants are receiving benefits while working.

It is the first poll to show much sympathy to benefit claimants. The findings will make concerning reading in Number 11, where Osborne has made an attack on 'scroungers' part of his campaign drive for the next election.

The poll showed ten per cent of the public wanted benefits to rise above inflation, 16% wanted them to rise by less than inflation (the government's policy) and 11% did not want them to rise at all.

Seven out of ten also believed that the rich are not paying their fair share.

In another victory for campaigners, the poll comes as the government announced a significant delay in welfare assessments for those claiming disability living allowance.

The benefit, which is designed to help disabled people lead independent lives, is set to be replaced by personal independence payments.

But the delay in the assessment timetable gives enough time for an independent review of the first phase of the switch, to be carried out in 2014.