Why healthy, wealthy southerners get the most welfare benefits
April 18, 2012
My Blackburn with Darwen colleague Ben Barr has done an excellent job of deconstructing the ‘welfare dependent north /poor/underclass hypothesis’ currently in (dogmatic) political vogue. His evidence is now published in the BMJ.
The coalition government wants to cut £4bn in welfare benefits to the poorest and most vulnerable citizens concentrated in northern boroughs because the ‘welfare bill has risen 45% in the last ten years’. The system, it argues, rewards the social failure of the five million people on ‘out of work state benefits’.
But this is a disingenuous representation of the real ‘welfare benefits situation’ in the UK.
Although they probably don’t know it, and the Daily Mail certainly won’t say it, the wealthiest 20% of the population – mostly in the leafy southern boroughs – get the most welfare benefits from the state.
The reason is:
- DWP welfare expenditure is comprised of both out of work benefits and state pension related spend
- The whole budget has risen in the last ten years – but mainly because improved life expectancy is increasing the number in the population above the state pension age
- Over the last ten years, spending on ‘out of work benefits’ has actually decreased slightly – particularly in more deprived (northern) areas
- Over the past ten years, spending on state pensions and related benefits has significantly increased – particularly in wealthy (southern) areas.
The figure below shows the relative costs in £billions of out of work and state pension related spending – and which is predicted to grow up to 2035 on present assumptions.
What I take from this is that:
- ‘What men say is true is true in its consequences’ – so even though the largest welfare recipient population are elsewhere, the ‘poor out of work northerners’ are seen as a ‘problem we can’t afford’
- There currently seems to be a significant evidence/narrative gap that is ideologically driven about welfare spend
- If the middle class support the current continued assault on universal welfare benefits they may eventually find themselves the victim rather than the ‘undeserving poor’ – as it is they, not the workless, who are ultimately set to get most from the welfare system through longer life expectancy
- That we should support social solidarity for both those out of work and those on pensions – with benefits freely and universally available to all – wherever they are.