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Britain’s ‘mediocre’ welfare system in need of urgent reform

Despite having the 5th largest economy in the world, the UK is ranked just 15th among 23 European countries on tackling poverty and social exclusion.

A new Index on the effectiveness of different welfare states by the International Longevity Centre, has warned that ‘endemic squalor’ in Britain means the UK must learn from better performing European countries if it to successfully tackle poverty and social exclusion.

Despite having the 5th largest economy in the world, the UK is ranked just 15th among 23 European countries on the ILC-UK’s Poverty and Social Exclusion Index and 14th on the ILC-UK’s Housing Quality Index, mainly due to high levels of housing cost overburden among the young and the working age population.

Worryingly, the UK has one of the highest rates of housing cost overburden, with 18-24 year olds bearing the largest burden compared to other age groups.

The landmark report – ‘Measuring state effectiveness: an ILC-UK index’ – ranks European countries based on the performance and effectiveness of their welfare systems between 2003-2014, with Nordic countries such as Sweden and Norway easily outperforming many other European countries – including the UK, Spain, Italy and Germany.

The index ranks the UK as worse than average in 23 EU countries at protecting older people at risk from poverty. But adds that the risk of poverty and social exclusion remains highest amongst 18-24 year olds, affecting around 29% of households in this age group compared to 24% of those aged 65 and over.

ILC-UK warns that “silver welfare”, or “focusing spending on social protection for old age is the only strategy consistently associated with bad outcomes”.

The UK also performs relatively poorly compared to better performing European countries on access to Education (9th), health of the population (9th) and inter-generational fairness (5th).

In terms of the overall effectiveness of it’s welfare system, the UK is ranked a “distinctively average” 11th out of 23 European countries included in the index.

The Measuring State Effectiveness’ report found that: “Given that the UK is ranked 15th for poverty and social exclusion; 14th for housing quality; 9th for health of the population; 9th for access to education; and 5th for intergenerational fairness, the UK is ultimately ranked a distinctly average 11th overall for state effectiveness.

“‘Measuring State Effectiveness’ urges the UK to learn from the welfare strategies of higher ranked countries, such as focusing on social protection for families, higher participation of older women in the labour force, and investing in substantial health expenditure.”

Dr Cesira Urzì Brancati, Research Fellow, ILC-UK said: “Given that the UK is currently the 5th largest economy in the world, we might expect it to rank higher than 15th in Europe for social protection spending, and expect it to allocate spending more evenly across the lifecycle.

“As the UK’s population is ageing rapidly, future governments need a coherent strategy to deliver a welfare state which guarantees the best possible provision for the largest number of people across the UK.

“This strategy cannot be based on what is politically expedient; instead, future governments must base these judgements on evidence. Looking at approaches to social security, health, housing and education across Europe to identify successful strategies is a good place to start, particularly in times of such uncertainty”.

Rachael Orr, Oxfam’s head of UK Programme, told The Independent: “A functioning welfare state is crucial, especially when so many people in the UK are living in poverty, struggling to put food on the table and heat their homes.”

She added: “The government recognised this when it introduced Universal Credit in 2013, but we’re concerned that the proposed system has since suffered so many changes that it won’t achieve the kind of improvements it set out to, and that are so vitally needed.

“Tackling poverty isn’t just about welfare state provision, its also about pay and the quality of employment. A job should be the first route out of poverty and we need a better labour market, as well as a better welfare system, to improve the lives of the poorest.”


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