Governments in the UK and elsewhere in Europe are taking a position on welfare reform which is in line with public opinion, but may be the wrong strategic choice in the long-term - prioritising benefits for older people at the expense of families and children who have been hit hard by the financial crisis. This is the central argument of a substantial new Policy Network/IPPR paper.

When it comes to making reforms to the welfare system, defending existing social security entitlements at the expense of families and children, is the public's preferred choice, according to a major piece of new comparative YouGov polling in the UK, Denmark and France. Centre-left parties must face up to tough choices and take political risks if they want to maintain fiscal credibility and at the same time continue to tackle family poverty and extend early years opportunities in an era of austerity: they must be prepared to develop new arguments and find new ways of talking about fairness that justifies additional spending on children and families.

Authors Patrick Diamond and Guy Lodge argue:

'The crisis looks to be shoring up the 'old' welfare state edifice at precisely the moment when Europe's welfare states ought to be adapting in the light of major structural challenges.'

A significant danger identified by Diamond and Lodge is that growing inequalities in electoral participation might further entrench the welfare status quo and heighten the onset of intergenerational and distributional conflict.

Published in partnership with Policy Network and The Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS).