British public backs higher benefits for 4.6 million families

27 May 2021

A major study of public attitudes to social security following the pandemic today reveals a groundswell of support for increasing benefit payments. A citizens’ jury and national poll demonstrated strong public support for increasing benefits for: disabled people, carers of disabled people, young people aged 18 to 24, and lone parents who are in work or looking after young children.

Together these groups amount to over 4.6 million families or 74 per cent of all households who will receive universal credit once the new benefit is rolled-out in full. The research is published today in a Fabian Society report Going with the grain. It was funded by the Standard Life Foundation.

The YouGov survey

A nationally representative poll found that at least half of adults who expressed a view wanted higher benefits in seven illustrative cases that covered disabled people, carers and lone parents (the percentage of people wanting higher benefits is in brackets, excluding people who said ‘don’t know’):


Not working


- An adult who is severely disabled and may not work again (77 per cent)

- An adult who is caring full-time for a disabled relative (76 per cent)

- A single parent caring for a baby (58 per cent)

- An adult who is sick and disabled but may be able to work in one or two years’ time (56 per cent)

- A disabled adult who is only able to work part-time earning the national living wage (71 per cent)

- A single parent with two pre-school children who works part-time earning the national living wage (68 per cent)

- A single parent with two children who works full time earning the national living wage (65 per cent)


63 per cent of those expressing a view also wanted to equalise payments between under-25s and 25 to 65 year-olds (young adults currently receive £16 per week less in universal credit).

Conservative voters joined the rest of the public in wanting higher payments for many groups. A majority of 2019 Conservative voters (excluding those who said ‘don’t know’) supported higher benefits in scenarios involving disabled people, carers and working lone parents. More than half wanted to equalise payments between young adults and 25 to 65 year-olds. See table for full results.

The citizens’ jury

The polling questions confirmed findings from an in-depth citizens’ jury convened by the Fabian Society where 22 people randomly selected from across Britain were asked to agree their priorities for social security.

The citizens’ jury supported a package of improvements to social security that would slash child poverty by one third. The cost would be £10bn more than the government’s current temporary universal credit measures, taking the share of national income spent on benefits for working-age adults and children back to 2014 levels.

The jurors called for a major increase in spending to give more help to priority groups including disabled people, carers of disabled people and carers of babies and toddlers. They also called for the government to pay for most of the costs of full-time childcare for low-income families so that it always pays to work (another policy backed by a majority in the YouGov survey excluding those who said ‘don’t know’).

These proposals come on top of keeping the £20 uplift to universal credit introduced in 2020 which a large majority wanted to retain in both the citizens’ jury and the survey (in the poll, 67 per cent of those who expressed a view wanted to keep the £20 per week temporary uplift).

The Fabian Society report Going with the grain presents these new findings alongside detailed plans for improving social security, designed to go with the grain of public opinion. The proposals raise payments for the groups the public prioritise including young adults struggling during in the pandemic and parents of babies and toddlers (see notes).

Andrew Harrop, general secretary of the Fabian Society and co-author of Going with the grain said:

This in-depth study of public attitudes shows that people in Britain want most families who are eligible for universal credit to get more money.

The public particularly want to help disabled people, young adults, working lone parents and people caring for babies and disabled relatives. These groups make up 4.6 million households or three quarters of everyone who will get universal credit.

Our survey found strong support for higher spending on key priorities identified by a Fabian Society citizens’ jury of 22 randomly-selected adults. The jury agreed a plan for reform that would slash child poverty by one third and return social security spending to the level seen in 2014.

This research shows how campaigners and politicians can make the case for higher benefits by focusing on groups and causes where there is greatest public support.

Mubin Haq, chief executive of Standard Life Foundation, said:

The majority of the public are not convinced our social security offers the safety net it should be providing. It has too many holes and is unfair and insufficient. The pandemic has shown many of us are vulnerable and we need a more comprehensive package of support.

Our politicians need to catch up with public thinking, giving people a fair chance to get back on their feet and helping people when they fall on hard times. The cost to government spending is significant, but the human cost of inaction is even greater.

Download the report