UK Welfare System Least Supportive in North West Europe

The SNP has said that “independence is the only way to rebuild the social security net and create a fairer society” after new analysis shows the Westminster government has presided over the least generous unemployment benefits in North West Europe for the past two decades.

The analysis from the House of Commons Library has revealed that when 16 types of households on average unemployment benefits are compared over twenty years across 14 countries in North West Europe (including the UK), the UK ranks lowest in 95% of cases.

For the latest year available – 2019 for Switzerland and 2020 for the other 13 countries – the UK is only better in 2% of cases, equal in 1% and worse in 97%; and of the four cases in which the UK does not rank lowest or equal to, it is only by a single digit.

The figures, using OECD data, show that unemployed people in the UK receive 16 percentage points of their employed income less than the average North West European country.

When compared to small countries similar in size to Scotland, this rises to 19 percentage points.

Figures from the Mutual Information System on Social Protection also show that the support a single person receives through Universal Credit in the UK is less than a fifth of the average unemployment benefits provided by other European countries, even with the uplift. 

The flat-rate payment offered by the UK is equivalent to just 18 per cent of average weekly earnings.

When the uplift is removed, it will be worth 14 per cent of average earnings.

In comparison, Nordic countries offer as much as 90% of previous wages.

Commenting, the SNP’s Fair Work and Employment spokesperson and Glasgow MP Chris Stephens said:

“The UK already has the least generous unemployment benefits in North West Europe, as well as the worst poverty levels, and is one of the most unequal countries in the developed world – the planned Tory austerity cuts will make this worse and see half a million more people plunged into poverty and undermine Scottish Government support.

“Scotland deserves better than this.

“This data shows that independent countries of Scotland’s size, or smaller, are consistently fairer and generous with welfare support – recognising, as the SNP Scottish Government does, that providing a proper social security net to support people when they face a change in financial circumstances outwith their control, is the duty of any government.

“Indeed, a social security safety net is needed more than ever at a time when people are reeling from the twin effects of Brexit and Covid – but instead this Tory government, after it already spent a decade dismantling it, plans to hack away at it further.

“By becoming an independent country, with full powers over employment, social security and the economy, Scotland can be more successful and better off – just like our European neighbours.”