Ministers are accused of using dirty tricks to turn public against claimants

Ministers were accused last night of demonising benefits claimants in an attempt to justify their controversial decision to increase most state handouts by less than inflation.

Polling commissioned by the Trades Union Congress suggests that a campaign by Tory ministers is turning voters against claimants – but only because the public is being fed "myths".

The criticism comes before a Commons vote next Tuesday on the Welfare Benefits Uprating Bill, which will ensure that most benefits and tax credits will rise by only 1 per cent for the next three years. Labour, which will vote against the measure, will try today to answer Tory claims that it is "soft" on scroungers by announcing a "tough love" plan to force adults who have been out of work for more than two years to take up a government "job guarantee" or lose their benefits.

Chancellor George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, have both said people in work could be forgiven for resenting those on what they perceive are unwarranted benefits.

According to YouGov, people who know least about the facts are the most hostile. More than half of those who are "least accurate" about the system think benefits are too generous, while fewer than one in three (31 per cent) of those giving the "most accurate" answers agree.

Frances O'Grady, the TUC general secretary, said: "It is not surprising that voters want to get tough on welfare. They think the system is much more generous than it is in reality, is riddled with fraud and is heavily skewed towards helping the unemployed, who they think are far more likely to stay on the dole than is actually the case. Indeed if what the average voter thinks was true, I'd want tough action too."

A government source said last night: "If Labour seriously thinks stopping households receiving more in benefits than families earn going out to work is prejudiced and ignorant, it is completely out of touch."