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Britain debates: What should European welfare look like?

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But critics charge that Mr. Osborne's imagery was a classic example of Conservative Party scapegoating of the poor, meant to play to a particular strata of voters fiercely fought over by the Tories and Labour. Labour points to analysis showing 7 million working households will lose out by an average £165 ($265) annually under the plan. And Sarah Teather, a Liberal Democrat member of Parliament who lost her job as children and families minister in a reshuffle in September, also said she would be voting against.

"As a constituency MP representing a very deprived area in London, I feel deeply anxious about the policy and I will be voting against the bill ... very reluctantly and with a very heavy heart," she told the BBC.

By ramping up the rhetoric ahead of today's vote, Britain's Conservative Party sought to exploit perceived associations between their Labour opponents and notions of an outdated welfare state. Drawing on focus group research, one recent Conservative election attack ad featured an image of a man on sofa watching daytime television and asked if the government should support “hardworking families or people who don’t work.”

Polling last week also revealed that more than 2 out of 5 people believe that benefits were too generous, and 3 out of 5 buy into the idea that a culture of dependency had emerged. A British trade union umbrella body that commissioned the research said Tuesday that public support for measures such as the one adopted by Parliament was based on ignorance of who will suffer.

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