Many citizens of the UK believe that the government are too much of a "soft touch", and that it is too easy to claim state welfare for a multitude of reasons (disability, housing, childcare, job seekers allowance etc).

I'm all for welfare, provided that the system is treated with respect, and used only for the purposes intended, however many UK citizens have witnessed its abuse at first hand. Media reports seem to suggest that people believe they are simply owed a living, even though they do nothing to earn it themselves, and that this is a large contributor to the abuse of the welfare system.

It worries me that, as a nation seriously in debt, the UK are still somehow able to dole out so much money into the welfare system. Even with current reforms to the welfare system, its abuse continues.

My question is, how does the UK's welfare system differ from that of other wealthy European countries (especially as far as eligibility) such as Germany and France, and are other wealthy countries able to maintain stricter control over how welfare is allocated to the population in comparison to the UK?

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    Note that nearly all government programs, in nearly all nations, are abused on some level. That is human nature. Not that there isn't room to improve everything, but don't assume there is some magical 'abuse proof' system out there in the wild. ;)
    – user1530
    Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 17:40
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    This would have been a much better question without the second or third paragraphs. Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 13:50
  • @DA, I'm originally from South Africa, so my idea of an abuse proof system, is no system at all! Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 14:07
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    @series0ne I think that's actually the answer. ;) Alas, there is no such thing as an abuse-proof system.
    – user1530
    Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 23:42
  • @DA. There never will be an abuse-proof system, but the amount of abuse is troubling enough, but worse is the openness of the UK's policies that make the abuse so easy. See my answer for more details.
    – SteB
    Commented Mar 30, 2013 at 8:15

2 Answers 2


Short answer: The UK is much softer touch, not only in the amount people can claim, but more importantly, the ease of qualifying for benefits.

More detail can be found at MigrationWatch UK, an independent think-tank, just two papers I was able to find within minutes:

  1. Comparison of UK Benefits with those of the EU14, finds the UK the 4th most generous welfare system in the EU, with newly immigrated claimants able to claim indefinitely from day 1, something no other country in the report allows (France, Germany etc..).

  2. UK Child Benefit and non-UK resident EU children, the UK pays out over £1 million per week for children who don't live in the UK, something that the UK is 1 of only 5 EU countries out of 21 included in the report that permits this.

I'm sure further searching of this website alone will reveal further papers & analysis revealing the extent of the UK's "soft touch" policies.

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    How can 4th place in EU mean "much more", especially if that doesn't count other countries? It's as if you said "Germany almost won WW2, as they were at the 2nd place". Also, no details, just the "much more" and links, as if UK was "much more" in every aspect of welfare system, or if welfare system was a unity, not a combination of various elements. Commented Mar 30, 2013 at 3:11
  • @DarekWędrychowski - I've updated my answer to make it more detailed. 4th place out of 14 EU countries (on a single welfare policy), only outdone by smaller, richer countries (of which one is currently following Greece), plus the more troubling issue is the ease of claiming. I linked to the reports to avoid duplicating lots of detail.
    – SteB
    Commented Mar 30, 2013 at 8:10
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    Good info, but we also have to be aware that the term 'abuse' can be a bit loaded. Is it truly abuse of the system, or is the system actually designed to be that generous? Semantics, perhaps.
    – user1530
    Commented Mar 30, 2013 at 16:31
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    Why the focus on immigration? It does not seem to address the question and, in my view, it's mostly a distraction.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Oct 3, 2014 at 3:43
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    @SteB That's debatable but debate is not what this site is for. The point is that, the way I read it, it's not what the question mainly is about and the answer fails to provide a comparison between the UK's and other systems in terms of fraud, requirements or scope of the benefits in themselves.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Oct 3, 2014 at 8:40

That many UK subjects believe the UK Government is a soft touch on benefits is just that: a belief. Why that belief exists is a another question (I'd suggest looking at the UK's terrible tabloids for a start).

The UK system is less generous than other European countries. For example, in Germany and Sweden one can receive 80% of your previous wage for up to a year after being made unemployed. JSA in the UK is £72/week for over 25 year olds (hardly a 'living').

A large amount of benefit is paid out as housing benefit. This goes naturally straight to the landlord (and then often a bank due to buy-to-let mortgages) not the claimant. The UK's housing market,high rents, and lack of social housing compared to other counties is a factor here.

The system in the UK is also less efficiently administered, which has seen the surge of people dependant on foodbanks, much more than in comparable countries.

We've also seen how entitlement to disability benefit administered by a private company has resulted in scores of people dying.

Abuse of the system (e.g. claiming JSA whilst working on the blackmarket) does occur as is does everywhere. There are no statistics that show it is more widespread in the UK than elsewhere. The fact is, there is much more money that is left unclaimed by people that are rightly entitled to it than benefit being defrauded - DWP's own figures. Interestingly, the DWP spends a lot of money combating fraud, and virtually nothing on informing people on what they're are entitled to.

In a civilised country, people shouldn't starve when they have no work (or are unable to work) and keeping a roof over people's heads is considered a basic necessity.

In short: the UK welfare system is less generous and more incompetently administered compared to most other western European countries. Fraud isn't noted for being higher.

What is different is the demonisation of people who claim benefits in the UK, and the aforementioned housing situation. The UK's low wages with high living cost also exacerbate the benefit trap (no rational person would take a low paid job to be worse off at the end of the month).

If the UK's national debt level is really keeping you awake at night, look at tax avoidance schemes and tax evasion by large companies and very rich individuals.

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    This answer would greatly benefit from some references to support the claims.
    – Alexei
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 18:24

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