skidelsky163_Anthony DevlinPA Images via Getty Images_uk welfare Anthony Devlin/PA Images via Getty Images

Britain’s Benefit Madness

Work is the ultimate escape from poverty. But the futile sort demanded by the United Kingdom’s income-support scheme puts many of society’s weakest members on a path to nowhere, because it reflects a welfare ideology that fails to distinguish fantasy from reality.

LONDON – Mahatma Gandhi probably never said, “The greatness of a nation can be judged by how it treats its weakest member.” But that doesn’t make it any less true. And nowadays, the United Kingdom is in danger of receiving a failing grade.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 14.5 million people, or 22% of the UK’s population of 65 million, live below the “poverty line” (defined as less than 60% of median income). Of a working-age population of 42 million, some 5-6 million, or about 12%, are either unemployed or underemployed (working less than they want to). About eight million working-age citizens, or 20% of the total, qualify for what the British call “benefit,” whereby all or part of their income is paid by the state.

These figures are approximate, and some of the details are disputed. But the broad picture is that, even setting aside COVID-19, the UK’s capitalist system normally cannot provide a living wage for about one-fifth of the country’s working-age population.

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