Benefits payments may be changing the personality of disadvantaged Britons and making successive generations steadily less motivated to seek employment, according to controversial claims by a university academic.
A new book warns that the welfare system is having the unintended consequence of boosting the number of children born into workless households where they are in turn at risk of developing “aggressive, antisocial and rule-breaking tendencies” which keep them out of the jobs market. The contentious claims by Dr Adam Perkins, a researcher at Kings College London, will further fuel the debate about whether benefits create a “dependency culture” by suggesting that a resistance to work is being passed from generation to generation and slowly eroding the nation’s work ethic.
Previously research has debunked the idea that the welfare system contains a significant number of families where unemployment is effectively passed on from one generation to the next.
A study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) failed to find a single family in the UK where worklessness had persisted for three or more generations and found that those who were long-term unemployed remained committed to the value of work. But Dr Perkins argues in his book, The Welfare Trait, that evidence exists to suggest that personality and the desire to work can be negatively affected by the experience of being raised in a workless household. He says further studies need to be done to see whether the benefits system is ensuring that increasing numbers of Britons are developing “employment-resistant characteristics”.
The academic, a lecturer in neurobiology, told The Independent: “I’m not going to pretend that these ideas are not challenging but we need to have a debate and confront the possibility that the welfare state has become a production line for certain dysfunctional personality traits that reduce the motivation to work.
“There is data to suggest that anti-social traits are over-represented among welfare claimants and that a willingness to challenge norms concerning work is increasing generation by generation. We should be considering reforms to reverse such a trend.”
The book analyses socio-economic data and existing poverty studies to argue that childhood personality development is damaged by exposure to disadvantage.
It also points to the work of Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman, who found that intensive pre-school tutoring of children from low-income homes altered their personality traits.
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