The unnoticed success of welfare reform.

The big story in British welfare has been missed. The activity rate has risen. Sounds technical? It just means that more people are available for work. That is really important. The big thing that happened as the welfare state got bigger and bigger, starting in the 1960s, was that fewer and fewer people of working age were available for work. They were on incapacity benefit (under its various names). They were income support because they were lone parents (and not required to seek work). But after decades of rising, finally the numbers of such ‘inactive’ people have started going down.

It has happened because the system has been tightened up. Those on incapacity benefit are being tested more seriously. More lone parents are being required to work. It used to be the case that lone mothers were only required to work when their youngest child was 16.It was brought down to 12, then 7. I think it is now 5. It will be 3. These have been major changes in the system. They have largely gone unnoticed.

And since we have had hundreds of thousands of extra people available for work, there has been automatic pressure for the unemployment rate to go up. But this year it has not. These people who have gone ‘active’ have not bumped up the unemployment rate. In these circumstances, just holding the unemployment rate steady is a remarkable success.

To put it all another way, the numbers of people who are of working age but claiming welfare benefits has gone down. A good news story. Perhaps that is why it is not being told.


  1. Notes ahead of the welfare reform white paper
  2. Some bad news about the welfare reform and some good
  3. It would be a real reform, if it happens
  4. The success of welfare reform in America
  5. Welfare reform: the backlash is only just beginning
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