Is the UK benefit system really too generous?

By European standards Britain's benefits system is far from generous.

Today’s Times front page didn’t pull any punches. ‘Idle Britons are allowing Romanians to take jobs’, the newspaper proclaimed.

The headline was drawn from comments made by Romania’s labour minister, who appeared to single out Britain’s supposedly generous welfare system as resulting in a larthargic British workforce.

That the Times should run with this as a front page story is testament to just how short some people’s memories are. With all due respect to the labour minister of Romania, she is also not perhaps the best person to comment on the generosity of the British welfare system – unless she really has enough time on her hands to study another country’s welfare system.

In fact, she couldn’t be further from the truth.

Just last month a study by Edinburgh University showed that benefits do not make people lazy. The Europewide study, which was carried out in 28 countries, found that paying high levels of benefits to the unemployed did not result in them becoming lazy or lacking motivation to find a job.

Crucially, the study concluded that motivation levels of those without work are more likely to be affected by the way society views them.

As Dr Jan Eichhorn who wrote the report put it:

“Those who claim that greater unemployment benefits lead to less motivation for people to seek employment should think again – for most people, it is not the degree of state provisions that determines how they personally feel about the experience of being unemployed.”

As for claims about Britain’s overgenerous welfare state, compared to other European countries Britain’s welfare state isn’t really that generous at all. Take a look at the graph below (click to zoom in).

Benefits generous

The study, carried out by the Economic and Social Research Council’s Centre for Population Change last year, found that the UK had below average levels of welfare spending among developed nations.

So no, by European standards Britain’s benefits system is far from generous.

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10 Responses to “Is the UK benefit system really too generous?”

  1. LB

    Good example today

    A DISABLED single mum and her teenage son say they have been forced to cancel Christmas after the so-called bedroom tax cost them nearly £1,000.

    Lisa Taylor agreed to downsize to a two-bedroom flat in Quenington Close, Warndon, Worcester, from her three-bedroom flat in Rose Avenue, Tolladine, where she had lived for a decade because of the tax or “spare room subsidy”.


    So no arguments about there not being properties to down size to.


    Since the bedroom tax was brought in she can no longer afford to buy her son a PlayStation 4 for Christmas.


    Spare rooms on benefits. PlayStation 4 on benefits.

    What was that about it not being generous?

    She’s had a property that’s too large for her needs and we’ve had to fork out the money?

    In Westminster there were benefit claimants on 104,000 pounds a year in housing benefit.

    Yep, its too generous.

    Far better to allow people to save their cash first, and then if unemployed, get help.

    However, you’ve looted the NI, so you can’t even pay pensions.

    That’s what the welfare cap and pensions are welfare agenda is all about.

  2. robertcp

    Can someone tell the Blairites who are always going on about welfare reform?

  3. robertcp

    Of course, one of the reasons is that the largest left of centre party in the UK is dominated by people who work for a living (trade unions). The British welfare state has always been designed to keep people going until they get another job.

  4. Mason Dixon, Autistic

    I don’t think you managed to squeeze enough non sequiters in there.

  5. Dacus

    How “generous: the British welfare system is completely irrelevant. Mrs Campeanu was responding to the accusations of the British government and media that Romanians would emigrate to the UK, to benefit form the generous welfare available in country, the so called “benefit tourism”. Her point was that Romanians fill positions that Britons won’t take as “beneath them”, preferring to stay ion benefit than work in poorly paid difficult jobs.
    She was entitled to her comment as much as the British politicians are entitled to comment about the affairs of other countries.

  6. Dacus

    The claim that the British welfare system is one the most generous in Europe is constantly made by British tabloids. If this not true, the fault lies entirely with the British press, which is constantly lying about how wonderful the benefit system is, and how Romanians and Bulgarians will flock to take advantage of. The Romanian Labour Ministry has simply taken at a face value a lie perpetrated in the British media.

  7. Michael O'Connor

    This IS a good one. The chart appears in Corrado Guiletti’s paper Welfare Migration with the comment “The countries with largest social assistance spending are Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom”!

    The knockabout and stereotype of ‘laziness’ and the false dichotomy of working OR on benefits are not to the point of whether UK welfare policies, and in particular its subsidies for lower-paid employment are a pull factor for movement within an area of unrestricted migration. I t’s worth quoting the paper’s conclusion after 20 pages of analysis:

    “Our review suggests that the number and characteristics of immigrants are potentially
    a ffected by not only immigration policies which are meant to directly a ffect immigration
    flows but also by other policies, such as welfare programs. Hence policymakers should be aware of the interactions between immigration and welfare policies. One of the major fi ndings of a recent study by Zimmermann et al. (2012) is that while raw statistics show that welfare receipt is higher among immigrants in most of the European Union, when controlling for socio-economic characteristics, such welfare dependency persists in only a few Member States. This suggests that characteristics of immigrants directly influenced by immigration policies (such as their skill level) are important determinants of immigrants welfare use. Hence policymakers should focus on the design of selective immigration policies and at the same time should intervene on welfare programs attributes (e.g. contributory nature and eligibility criteria) by taking into account a country’s immigration pattern and the characteristics of immigrants.

  8. digitaltoast

    1: Why do you present a graph 6 years out of date, but say it was carried out “last year”?

    2: The link you chose to post doesn’t exist, meaning we can’t check your figures.

    3: You claim that the first report you link to “found that paying high levels of benefits to the unemployed did not result in them becoming lazy or lacking motivation to find a job”.

    In fact, the abstract “finds that the effect of unemployment on life-satisfaction is indeed moderated by economic and demographic national-level factors, but not by unemployment benefits”.

    “Life satisfaction” and “motivation” are two completely different things. About as different as migration and immigration, which are also two things deliberately confused and conflated in this type of argument.

    4: The reports you link to cost about £29 to buy. Why not buy a copy for us and put it online so we can see the data, not the spin?

    5: Have you thought about being a little more honest in your articles?

  9. Peter Wild

    So what caused unemployment before social security was invented?

  10. Michael O'Connor

    See EU Commissioner Viviane Reding’s comments reported today

    saying that if UK wants to reduce EU migration it should reduce the ‘generosity’ of its benefits!

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