The Welfare State

UK Governments use the welfare state to help those who are too young, too ill or too old to look after themselves. It also helps those who are out of work. It has been difficult for recent governments to pay for the modern welfare state.

There are three main reasons for this:

  • Life expectancy for men and women has risen dramatically with implications for the cost of pensions
  • There has been a large growth in the number of lone parents leading to a knock on effect on benefit costs such as housing and council tax benefits
  • Millions of people are now unemployed and the costs are considerable for government


1.68m unemployed 2012-14 life expectancy Men 79.1 Women 82.8. Number of lone parents has grown and benefits have increased accordingly.

Whilst helping those to find work, the welfare state continues to support the unemployed with a range of benefits. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has responsibility for benefits and for getting people back to work. The welfare budget accounts for one third of all government spending. The UK Coalition Government has made it a priority to reform the system in order to provide incentives for people to find a job and come off benefits.

Universal Credit

Under Universal Credit there is a cap of £26,000 paid to a household to ensure that those out of work do not receive more than those in work. In return for receiving Universal Credit, those unemployed must look for work or take steps towards it. This may include preparing a CV, attending training courses, applying for suggested vacancies or registering with a recruitment agency. In most cases they must also be available and willing to immediately take up work and attend interviews to discuss plans and opportunities for returning to the workplace. Universal Credit began rolling out in 2013 and is expected to be completed by 2017.

Child Benefit

Two men going into Jobcentre Plus

Child benefit is a tax-free payment that is aimed at helping parents cope with the cost of bringing up children. However, changes to the rules in 2013 means that all parents are no longer entitled to child benefit. Families where one parent is earning more than £50,000 a year cannot claim the full amount. Those who are eligible for the full payment can claim £20.50 a week for an eldest or only child and £13.55 a week for each other child. The payments apply to all children aged under 16 or who stay on at school. Child Benefit will continue to be available in addition to Universal Credit,but will be means tested.

The 'Bedroom Tax'

Those who claim housing and unemployment benefit may have their payments reduced if the government decides they have one or more spare bedrooms.

The Early Years Framework

In an attempt to stop poverty and unemployment affecting the next generation, the Scottish Government has decided to make improving the early years of a child's life a priority. The Early Years Framework is an attempt to identify children who are most vulnerable to a poor upbringing and intervene to improve their life as early as possible.