According to the papers, Ed Miliband is set to make a speech today in which he attacks the 'something for nothing' culture which benefit fraud is a part of. This follows feedback from Labour's policy review that voters are socially conservative and want politicians to go far and wide on welfare reforms.
Subsequently, Ed Miliband looks to have fallen into the 'opinion poll trap': that politicians must pander to public opinion rather than seek to change it in line with their own principles.
Data on public attitudes however show this to be false. Look at the graph below. It show the proportion of respondents from the British Social Attitudes series that believe benefits for the unemployed are either (a) too low or (b) too high. The data show that there was once a time, before 1997, when the UK was a country predominantly sympathetic to those on benefits and believed in giving more financial support.
What is particularly interesting is the timing of this change in attitudes. It happened abruptly in 1998, when the percentage of people stating that unemployment benefit is too high jumped from around 30% to almost 50%. It dropped a little in subsequent years but in the early 2000s became the clear majority view.
In other words then, the emergence of an anti-benefits culture coincided with the election of New Labour who, let's not forget, put conditionality and responsibility at the heart of welfare reforms like the New Deals. New Labour, probably more than what it wished, changed public attitudes in line with its own changing stance on the welfare state.
This evidence shows a truth which seems long forgotten by political parties: that if you want to, you can change society. Ed Miliband does not have to pander to people's prejudices about the benefits system: he should challenge them and change them.