What do British people want from a welfare system? Conjoint survey evidence on generosity, conditionality, funding, and outcomes

Daniel Nettle*, Joe Chrisp, Elliott A. Johnson, Matthew T. Johnson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Working paperPreprint

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Current debate about the appropriate level and form of social safety net leads us to ask the question: what do people want from a welfare system? We conducted a conjoint survey experiment with 800 UK-resident adults. We presented them with welfare schemes that varied generosity; in their fiscal implications (rates of personal income tax as well as other funding mechanisms); in their population consequences (effects on the rate of poverty, on inequality, and on physical and mental health); and in their institutional design features (means testing, conditionality, and universality). The strongest driver of preference for a welfare scheme was its effect on poverty: people liked schemes that reduced poverty, and disliked schemes that increased it. Respondents were prepared to trade off their dispreference for higher personal income taxes against poverty: even for Conservative voters, substantial income tax rises were acceptable in exchange for sufficiently large reductions in the poverty rate. Taxes on wealth and carbon emissions were positively valued relative to increasing government borrowing. Respondents paid some attention to the effects of schemes on inequality and physical and mental health as well as poverty. Preferences over institutional design features, such as means testing, conditionality and universality, were weak. We discuss the findings with respect to the envelope of welfare systems that would be politically feasible in the UK context.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationIthaca, US
PublisherCornell University
Number of pages23
Publication statusSubmitted - 20 Sept 2023

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