In his recent Guardian article John Harris made the case for universal benefits, and he is absolutely right. As he said;
"Once again, we have to wearily go back to first principles. As the child benefit fiasco proves, means-testing and selectivity cost huge amounts of money and governmental effort. In stigmatising help and demanding engagement with a labyrinthine machine, selective benefits often fail to reach the people they are meant for (which is why over 25% of kids entitled to free school meals don't get them, and the means-testing of winter fuel payment would be dangerous)."Some benefits, such as unemployment benefit - now stigmatised as 'Jobseekers Allowance' - which deliberately makes it sound like a hand out - will only ever apply to certain members of society for obvious reasons. But others such as child benefit must remain universal if they are going to be maintained at reasonable levels.
Of course conservatives would love to see the end of universal benefits. This is because they know that it would be so much easier then to further reduce the levels of benefits for the poorest in our society to pay for more tax cuts for the better off. Aneurin Bevan, the great Labour Party socialist, undertsood this very well and said;
"If benefits are restricted to the poor, they will end up being poor benefits."
Finally, one of the commenters on Jon Harris's article also summed it it up beautifully;
"The welfare state is a national insurance. You don't exclude some because they're too rich. It goes against the principle. Just as you don't exclude rich car drivers from claiming on their car insurance "because, Sir, you don't need it".'