Generous welfare systems do not create a culture of dependency and actually make people more keen to work, a major Europe-wide study has found.
The research released by the British Sociological Association comes as all major parties indicate they want to reduce spending on benefits.
Survey responses from 19,000 people in 18 European countries, including the UK, indicated that the sums spent on welfare had a positive impact on people’s desire to find work.
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” and compared responses with the amount the country spent on welfare benefits and employment schemes. The results were adjusted according to population differences between states
The researchers from 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 likely its people were to say they would enjoy paid work - whether they were in a job or not.
Almost 80 per cent 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 per cent did.
Britain was average for the generosity of its benefits, and for the percentage agreeing with the statement – almost 60 per cent.
The Conservative party has said that it would reduce the annual cap on household benefits from £26,000 to £23,000 in a bid to encourage claimants to find work. Overall the Tories aim to cut £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-18. Labour, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP have also indicated their intention to make welfare savings.
The authors say in the paper, published in the journal Work, Employment and Society: “Many scholars and commentators fear that generous social benefits threaten the sustainability of the welfare state due to work norm erosion, disincentives to work and dependency cultures...This article concludes that there are few signs that groups with traditionally weaker bonds to the labour market are less motivated to work if they live in generous and activating welfare states.
“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.”
A Conservative spokesman said: “In Britain the facts are that welfare dependency increased under Labour whose complicated system did nothing to make work pay. We’ve cut the welfare bill and reformed the system so that it always pays to work: these competent changes have made sure the right incentives are in place and people have moved into work as a result.”