Tory chiefs sought last night to head off a backbench rebellion over child benefit as they released polling concluding that more than 80 per cent of the public supported taking it away from the best-paid.
More than 1m families with a parent earning more than £50,000 a year will this week start receiving letters from the HM Revenue and Customs warning them they are about to lose all or part of the benefit.
Many Conservative MPs have protested to George Osborne about the move, warning the Chancellor that it will cause anger among the party’s natural supporters. Some have urged him to him to halt, or at least delay, the step, which comes into effect in January.
But the Tory hierarchy hit back last night by claiming it was among the party’s most popular policies. It disclosed that its private polling had found that 82 per cent of voters supported removing child benefit from most higher rate taxpayers.
Even the vast majority of people directly affected by the move were in favour, according to the research conducted by Populus.
It discovered that 74 per cent of households with an income of more than £69,000 and 82 per cent of those with income of £55,000-£69,000 backed the policy.
A Treasury spokesman said: “When the Government is having to reduce welfare spending, it is very difficult to justify continuing to pay for the child benefit of the wealthiest 15 per cent of families in society.
“The unprecedented scale of the deficit has meant the Government has had to make tough choices to reduce public spending, but we have always been clear that those with the broadest shoulders should carry the greatest burden.”
Under the plans, households with anyone on a salary of £60,000 or more – about ten per cent of homes – will lose the benefit altogether. Those with an earner on between £50,000 and £60,000 – another five per cent of homes - will lose it on a sliding scale.
Mr Osborne argues that the move is essential to cut about £1.7bn-£2.5bn from the welfare bill.
But his Conservative critics have multiple criticisms of the scheme. They protest that it will represents a cap on aspiration by striving families, will be bureaucratic and difficult to collect and will deter many “stay-at-home mothers” from returning to work.
The benefit is currently £20.30 a week for the first child and £13.40 for each younger child.
Families with a parent earning £60,000 will lose £1,056 a year if they have one child, £1,752 if they have two and £2,450 if they have three.