The people versus social security

The Prime Minister’s commitment to cut welfare benefits in the long term follows a poll that suggests that a substantial number of people think likewise. An article by Peter Kellner reports that “People are turning against welfare, other than help for the elderly and disabled.” The poll, reported by Peter Kellner of Yougov, appeared in Prospect Magazine in February.

Much of the response, though, reflects misinformation about the benefits system. The current debate is driven by three key beliefs: that

  • the critical problems in benefit relate to “out of work” benefits;
  • expenditure on welfare is growing because of increasing demands from people of working age; and
  • the nature of provision leads to long-term dependency, generation after generation.

The evidence shows a different story:

  • Two thirds of DWP expenditure goes to people over working age. Benefit expenditure tables are available at this link.
  • The growth in expenditure is mainly attributable to older people (see the Benefit Expenditure Tables) and the extension of tax credits to people in work, not to the growth of “out of work” benefits.
  • Long-term dependency for jobless people is exceedingly rare. Hardly any unemployed people in the country – fewer than one unemployed person in every thousand unemployed people – have been continuously unemployed for ten years. The main long term dependency is found instead in people with long term disabilities. See my blog on the length of claims or the DWP figures.

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