Exposing benefit ‘myths’

A set of recurring 'myths' often distorts public debate on the benefits system, according to a new briefing from the Centre for Labour and Social Studies in conjunction with Red Pepper Magazine. The briefing highlights 12 myths widely used by politicians and in the media to justify the rolling back of the welfare state.

Key myths about benefits

  • 'There are generations of workless, work-shy families'
    Among households with two or more generations of working age, there are only 0.3 per cent where neither generation has worked.
  • 'Benefits are too generous'
    For the vast majority of families, taking a paid job would leave them significantly better off than receiving benefits.
  • 'Spending on benefits is out of control'
    Total benefit spending in 2011-12 accounted for 10.4 per cent of national income – lower than in the mid-1980s (11 per cent) and mid-1990s (12 per cent), despite the latest economic recession.
  • 'The benefit bill is high because of cheats and fraudsters'
    In 2011-12 just 0.7 per cent of the benefits bill was overpaid due to fraud – £1 billion compared with £70 billion lost through illegal tax evasion.
  • 'Universal benefits are expensive and inefficient'
    Universal benefits are highly efficient and require much less administration than selective benefits, which also lead to stigmatisation and reduced take-up.
  • 'Most claimants are sitting at home on benefits for years'
    Fewer than half of jobseeker’s allowance claimants claim for more than 13 weeks, and fewer than 10 per cent for more than a year.
  • 'Many people choose to claim disability benefits rather than work'
    Many employment and support allowance claimants have low employability in areas of few jobs. They may not be completely incapable of work, but they are certainly penalised by a labour market that has no place for them.
  • 'Most benefit spending goes on the unemployed'
    Out-of-work benefits account for under a quarter of all benefits spending. The biggest part – 53 per cent – actually goes to pensioners.
  • 'The number of people claiming out-of-work benefits is increasing year on year'
    In 1995, two years after the peak of the last recession, 17 per cent of people aged 16–64 were claiming an out-of-work benefit: by 2008 this was 11 per cent, and the 2008 recession only increased it to 12 per cent.
  • 'We are spending vast amounts on huge families with hordes of children'
    Families with more than five children account for just 1 per cent of out-of-work benefit claims. 91 per cent of benefit-claiming households have three or fewer children.
  • 'The benefits system encourages couples to split up'
    The DWP's own research has concluded that 'there is no consistent and robust evidence to support claims that the welfare system has a significant impact upon family structure'.
  • 'Work is always the best route out of poverty'
    Most children and working-age adults in poverty live in working, not workless, households. Low pay is a significant cause of poverty, with a fifth of workers paid less than a 'living wage'.

SourceExposing the Myths of Welfare, Centre for Labour and Social Studies/Red Pepper Magazine
LinksBriefing | CLASS blog post