Worldwide Welfare: How does the UK Government fair against global welfare systems?


The UK welfare system is constantly subjected to close scrutiny. Whether it’s criticisms over their handling of benefit fraud, or the inaccuracies that plague the current system, this is a tough topic for many MPs and other officials to tackle.

However, how exactly does it fair up against the rest of the world? Are there any key pointers for improvement that we can take from other developed nations? These are some important considerations, especially in light of recent welfare cuts, which could impact heavily on specific sectors of the population.

In today’s post, we’ll go over exactly what those cuts are, and look to other world leaders for how they manage the welfare state.

What’s the latest?

At the start of April, the new tax year brought with it a string of UK government benefit changes. Highlighted most by the media was the fact that, not only would Scotland’s welfare budget be cut by £200 million, but changes within that legislation mean that struggling families with children were set to be hit the hardest over the coming months. Changes include:

  • A two-child cap on child tax credits
  • Decreased payments for widowed parents
  • A reduction in support for those with work-limiting disabilities or health conditions

The news was delivered by Holyrood’s Social Security Minister, Jeane Freeman, who stated that the Scottish Government had no intention of following the policy she labelled as “callous”. She claimed that research has estimated such changes would drive up child poverty by 10%.

Freeman told the press: “The measures being introduced today will take around £200 million out of Scotland’s welfare budget each year by 2021-22. The squeeze will be felt most by families with children, young people and those who have already been hardest hit by continuing UK government austerity. As the Scottish Government take steps to eradicate child poverty, we do so in the face of these cuts which will push even more families into poverty.”

Satwat Rehman, Director of One Parent Families Scotland, commented: “Rising child poverty is a scar on our society and is projected to rise further as new benefit cuts, that could cost the hardest-hit single parents more than £6,000 by 2019, are set to come into force today.”

It’s not just Scottish families that have been impacted either. In a recent article by the Independent, it was reported that more than 50,000 disabled people have had their specially adapted vehicles taken away. This is according to the charity that currently run the scheme, who claim it’s part of a move over to a controversial new disability benefit.

Figures released by the Motability charity claim that, since the launch of reassessments for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) in 2013, 45% of all cases have been taken off the scheme. The Muscular Dystrophy UK charity added that said 900 cars are now being taken away every week, due to PIP rejections.

Former Labour Work & Pensions Minister, Angela Eagle, commented: “What’s happening in the worst cases is, from being mobile and being able to get out and about in a car, that’s been removed, and this may mean people have had their ability to live their life taken away, and some of them are left housebound.”

How does the UK compare?

With so much unrest and disquiet amongst the population about the ever-changing nature of the welfare state, it’s not uncommon for people to look at other neighbouring countries with that the-grass-is-always-greener mentality. With that in mind, we thought we’d take you through some of the other welfare states across the globe.

Just across the water, France looks beyond cash assistance, and is well-known for their social protection schemes. Rather than providing immediate-satisfaction support, they focus on creating networks that will help those poorer individuals improve their situation.

However, the closest comparison to the UK is the Revenu de solidarité active (RFA) – a benefit available for those who are at least 25 years old, or at least 18 if they are single parents, or can prove they worked a certain length of time previously. However, RFA does not require a person to be taking care of children to receive the assistance, unlike many other nations.

Moving further afield to the United States, we have a case very similar to our own. While they have several schemes in place such as food stamps, disability payments and Medicaid (healthcare for the poor), they overhauled their system over two decades ago to provide direct cash assistance to poor families.

This is known as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and when Americans refer to “welfare”, they don’t mean their entire state structure, but this specific programme – cash assistance for single parents on low incomes. The problems occur for the US when you start to consider how it’s regulated across states, which can have vastly different populations.

There are stricter requirements about what percent of aid recipients are entitled to, and the level of work activity they currently participate in. States that fail to hit their targets are penalised, so in a bid to better their figures, some actively limit how many people are eligible for welfare.

Move further up North America to Canada, and their support programmes vary by province, and increases if an individual is disabled or has more than one child. Their cash assistance works in much the same way as the US, as provinces will ask recipients to look for work if able to. The one huge difference here though, is that there’s almost no government restrictions, and no lifetime limit on receiving the benefit.

Japan offers a very different scenario. Currently just over 2% of Japanese use the aid the government has in place, and many of them are older people, particularly over 60s, with few job prospects.

In contrast to the over-arching, generic calculations seen elsewhere, the benefits given in Japan are completely tailored to the individual in question, based on the gap between minimum living costs (such as housing, education, medical bills and so on) and existing income.

However, you might ask why their benefit figures are so low to begin with, and this appears to lie in Japan’s customs, as social assistance is limited by how much the immediate family can help. It’s the civil code of the country that certain relatives must help and support those who cannot provide for themselves.

What does this mean for me?

Clearly, there are a lot of inaccuracies, inconsistencies and general challenges to overcome with the UK welfare state. However, when we compare ourselves to other countries, things do not seem so bad.

Our country is not large enough to warrant the irregular permits and problems that come with countries like the US and Canada, but it’s true that we could take a leaf out of the French book where social schemes are concerned.

With most developed countries, the real crux of the matter comes down to the end goals of the people giving out the welfare cheques. While we might be concerned with benefit fraudsters, states in other countries prioritise hitting targets, where figures of those signed up to welfare are concerned.

If you’re worried about what the recent benefit cuts could mean to you, or you’d just like to know more about your current situation and what benefits you’re entitled to, don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can call us on 020 7381 8111, or email us at law@hylton-potts.com.

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