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UK Politics

Paying benefits 'does not make unemployed lazy'


Paying high levels of benefits to the unemployed does not lead to them becoming lazy, or lacking motivation to find a job according to a European-wide study charting the well-being of claimants.

Comparing how joblessness affected the life satisfaction of people in 28 countries, the report from the University of Edinburgh found that there was no overall trend – the amount of benefits people received did not affect how people felt about being unemployed in a uniform way.

An example is that both Finland and Luxembourg both place in the top 25 per cent in terms of unemployment benefits expenditure yet those without jobs have high levels of dissatisfaction. Poland and Romania however follow the opposite trend, sitting in the bottom 25 per cent for expenditure, but their jobless are amongst the least affected.

Dr Jan Eichhorn, of the University of Edinburgh's School of Social and Political Science, who wrote the report, said: "Those who claim that greater unemployment benefits lead to less motivation for people to seek employment should think again - for most people, it is not the degree of state provisions that determines how they personally feel about the experience of being unemployed.”

"Unemployment does not just result in a loss of income but also a change in social position - that is perceived differently in different societies,” he added.

The research, which used data from Eurostat, the central statistics office of the European Commission, and the European Values Study, found that Germany had the most dissatisfied unemployed over second-placed Hungary, with both sitting in the middle 50 over cent range in terms of benefits expenditure. Above Romania on the bottom end of the scale were Spain, who sit in the top 25 per cent for expenditure, but their jobless remain relatively unaffected. Poland place 26. Britain sits in middle 50 per cent for benefit expenditure, but come 18 when it comes to dissatisfaction. Ireland place 24. There are still four countries in the bottom 25 per cent for benefits provision that sit in the top 10 for dissatisfaction, Lithuania, Estonia, Bulgaria and Latvia

The report states that cultural factors, such as being in a country that has an older population with fewer people of working age, had a much greater effect on well-being in addition to other measures such as high inflation levels and income inequality.

Caroline Davey, director of policy at Gingerbread, a charity that advises and supports single parents, said the group “was not surprised” by the results, with people in general “highly motivated to work”. Gingerbread also helps to lead the ‘Who Benefits?’ campaign alongside four other charities, which aims to “give a voice” to those supported by benefits and Ms Davey said certain rhetoric from the Government is damaging.

“People tell us that they are incredibly frustrated when they hear messages from the government and politicians that imply that they are lazy scroungers. The whole strivers versus skivers rhetoric is one that is deeply damaging, deeply untrue and deeply unfair. We know that people in general are highly motivated to work if they can”.

“In some respects the easy target is slashing benefits for claiming and implying that they all lazy, but the much more grown up thing to do is say that there are structural issues surrounding the job market and take a long hard look at those issues,” she added.

The paper, The (Non-) Effect of Unemployment Benefits: Variations in the Effect of Unemployment on Life-Satisfaction Between EU Countries, is published in the journal Social Indicators Research.