Fraser Nelson

Here’s why so many people in this country are on welfare

Here's why so many people in this country are on welfare
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Why is it Left wing to allow millions to live on benefits, and let children get each other pregnant? Tom Harris asks this question in an excellent article in the Mail on Sunday today. He’s right to get angry about a situation that means one in five UK children are brought up in workless households, the highest in the EU. But the reason is not because our women are lazier than the French and Italians. In my News of the World column today I ask: why do so many choose welfare dependency as a lifestyle? Well, it is because we pay them to.

To understand why Britain has such welfare dependency, look at the incentives. The horrible truth is that a girl leaving a British school with poor qualifications has a choice of career: work or pregnancy. As welfare is split up (council tax relief, tax credits, etc) no one in government has an overview of the real choices facing our school leavers. But I asked Iain Duncan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice to put together the figures for me – before housing costs, so as to compare them to the going rate for jobs. The weekly net income of a benefits-dependent parent is as follows:

Lone parent, one child: £207 a week

Two children: £262 a week

Three children: £324 a week

Four children: £377 a week

Five children: £441 a week.

Now compare this with work. The ONS recently published what women are paid for various occupations. It shows that a woman with two kids (and a £262 net weekly income) does better than a waiter (£113/week) a cashier (£128) shelf filler (£155) library assistant (£170) hairdresser (£188) child-minder (£240) and street trader (£246).  These are gross figures, so you’d have to take off a bit for tax (and add about £30 to the waiter and shelf filler – the lower paid get tax credits) but you get the picture.


This is the key to understanding why 5 million have been on benefits throughout the Labour years. We are not a country of feckless, dissolute Little Britain idiots but a country that responds to the incentives set down by the government. If welfare pays more than work, why work? Why is every Pret A Manger filled with immigrant staff? Because the difference between working and not working is far greater for them then for our own people.

I hope that Tom keeps going on at this. Unlike many other Labour MPs it does bother him. It is, in my view, the most important topic in Britain right now and it is horribly under-debated. If left and right really clash with each other on how best to solve this problem, how best to make work pay, then so much the better. We must grasp that we are paving a road from school to welfare dependency and we should not be so surprised when so many millions choose to take this road.

Written byFraser Nelson

Fraser Nelson is the editor of The Spectator. He is also a columnist with The Daily Telegraph, a member of the advisory board of the Centre for Social Justice and the Centre for Policy Studies.

Topics in this articleSociety