Generous welfare benefits make people more likely to want to work, not less
Generous welfare benefit levels make people who are not in employment more likely to want to work rather than less, new research suggests.
Survey responses from 19,000 people in 18 European countries, including the UK, showed that “the notion that big welfare states are associated with widespread cultures of dependency, or other adverse consequences of poor short term incentives to work, receives little support.”
Sociologists Dr Kjetil van der Wel and Dr Knut Halvorsen examined responses to the statement ‘I would enjoy having a paid job even if I did not need the money’ put to the interviewees for the European Social Survey in 2010.
In a paper published in the journal Work, Employment and Society they compare this response with the amount the country spent on welfare benefits and employment schemes, while taking into account the population differences between states.
The researchers, of Oslo and Akershus University College, Norway, found that the more a country paid to the unemployed or sick, and invested in employment schemes, the more its likely people were likely to agree with the statement, whether employed or not.
They found that almost 80% of people in Norway, which pays the highest benefits of the 18 countries, agreed with the statement. By contrast in Estonia, one of least generous, only around 40% did. The UK was average for the generosity of benefits, and for the percentage agreeing with the statement — almost 60%.
“The notion that big welfare states are associated with widespread cultures of dependency, or other adverse consequences of poor short term incentives to work, receives little support. “On the contrary, employment commitment was much higher in all the studied groups in bigger welfare states. Hence, this study’s findings support the welfare resources perspective over the welfare scepticism perspective.”
The actual article can be found here (pdf). The authors have done what they could to make sure that the data used was balanced, to rule out socioeconomic factors, and to check reliability. In the end of course they are left with a correlation, not proof of cause, but it’s a very interesting correlation over a large data set.
This is the sort of data that should be further explored. As if common human decency wasn’t a good enough reason for adequate welfare support; as if the multiple economic, health and educational benefits to society weren’t enough; it may well be that proper welfare support also makes people more likely to want to work – and another nasty right-wing myth is contradicted by the evidence. Reality, as they say, has a well known liberal bias.