47% of UK Voters Work for the State

An impressive 47% of the UK electorate are now entirely dependant on the State for a living. Which office-seeking political party would, in their right minds, now favour trimming the size of the State when nearly half the population depends upon it? 

It really is no wonder that David Cameron, leader of the Opposition Conservative Party, has ruled out cutting public spending. It’s a guaranteed election loser.

The State has three divisions;

i) Direct Employees6.83 million or 16% of the electorate.

The UK State (30% of all employees in Northern Ireland, 24% in Scotland, 23% in Wales and 20% in England) employs vastly more people than the European average (15%) or the US (14%). Since 1998, the public sector has added 680,000 jobs to the payroll to stand at 5.8 million.

ii) Welfare Dependants – 5.33 million or 12.4% of the electorate

Incapacity claimants – 3.01 million
Lone Parent claimants – 776,000
Unemployed – 904,000
Carer claimants – 371,000
Bereaved claimants – 119,000
Income related claimants – 161,000

iii) Pensioners – 12 million, 66% of which only claim the State pension. ie 18% of the electorate are entirely dependant on the State for their pension.

A grand total of 20 million voters or 47% of the electorate entirely dependant on the state for a living. (Note, I have only included those pensioners who are solely reliant on the State for survival. If one includes all pensioners, the % of the population reliant on the State increases to 55%.)

I would like to see a similar analysis for Australia.  

Sources
Pension and Welfare figures are from the Dept for Work and Pension data and electoral register is 43 million voters.

Cross-posted on my blog.

47 thoughts on “47% of UK Voters Work for the State

  1. Reposting my comment from pomm’s blog:

    Astonishing… will have to try and get some Australian figures done for comparison.

    You know, John Stuart Mill actually beleived that those who receive welfare shouldn’t be allowed to vote – in his words: “as required by first principles, that the receipt of parish relief should be a peremptory disqualification for the franchise.”

  2. Fleeced – what a neat structural solution. If you receive public funds you get excluded from voting. Much neater than limiting the vote to taxpayers and much more effective at limiting the size of government also.

    Another way to achieve a similar result would be to abolish welfare but allow people to sell their vote. That way private interests could bid for it rather than politicians. 🙂

  3. Allowing people to sell their vote? Now that’s an interesting idea.

    Universal suffrage isn’t all its cracked up to be. Tony Blair was elected by a huge majority with just 25% of the electorate last time round.

  4. Interesting post.

    A successful parasite does not destroy its host. The socialist experiment in the USSR etc. are examples of where government grew so much that it destroyed its host society’s capacity to support it. In the USSR, faced with mass starvation, private landholdings were permitted on one percent of land; and these ended up providing a third of all agricultural production. This gibes with the experience in the western world, where only about 3 percent of the population are involved in growing the food. So the thing about capitalism is, the state can exploit it a hell of a lot before it will actually cease to produce at quite a high level.

    I suppose there is an equilibrium at which the optimum point is reached for the state’s exploitation of society: any less and there is blood remaining to be sucked, and any more, and there will be less blood to suck.

    Pretty depressing really!

  5. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal by Marcus Walker (9 May), OECD figures show the percentage of the working age population dependent on government benefits as their sole or main source of income is 23.5% in France but only 18.7% in the UK. Germany and Sweden are not far behind France.(For the US, the figure is 15.2%.)

    The poms may not be pillars of financial rectitude but they do not deserve special condemnation. Margaret Thatcher’s legacy has not been entirely destroyed by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

  6. For a man that wants some legal advice, you’re a damnably hard fellow to catch, Pommy. And you need to do an author bio on the flannel panel, too (John will tell you how). Email me at my login address for this blog.

  7. SL – emailed you.

    A number of people have left comments on my blog saying they prefer a Citizen’s Basic Income. There appears to be growing support on the economic right in the UK for the idea of a payment made to all adults irrespective of wealth. Similar to 30/30.

  8. The way I would put it is that a legislated and government funded “minimum income” makes more economic sense than a legislated and business funded “minimum wage”. Hybrid measures seem to give us the worst of both systems.

  9. LIES, DAMNED LIES AND LIBERTARIAN STATISTICS

    Bloodypommy’s original statement that “An impressive 47% of the UK electorate are now entirely dependant on the State for a living” is incorrect.

    Among other things, were the UK Government to cease undertaking its various current functions, many of its current employees would find employment in the private sector, doing either similar things to the ones they do now or deploying their skills in other areas of demand. Only those government employees who could not get income from other sources in the absence of state employment are “entirely dependent” on the state for a living.

  10. By that logic welfare recipients are not dependent on the government either because most of them could get a job in the private sector if the government stopped the handouts and got out of the way.

  11. Very well RS. Privatise them. Each pound the UK Government spends costs society 1.35-1.45 pounds.

    Why are you throwing away all of this wealth? Its making some people work for too long, and discourages others from working at all.

  12. You are correct Terje, which in turn means that bloodypommy’s original statement was even less accurate. Of course, whether welfare (in the economic sense) would be improved by the government ceasing welfare provision is another matter altoghter. Nevertheless, it is true that many people currently on welfare are not “entirely dependent” on the state for a living.

    Mark, the case for privatising any particular government activity turns on the benefits and costs thereof. It is true that there is a deadweight cost to taxation (although, given the findings of the happiness literature which suggest a significant disconnect in the link between higher monetary wealth and improved economic welfare, it is not clear that the figures you cite are particularly meaningful in that regard). Even so, whatever the cost (in forgone economic welfare terms) of a dollar spent by the public sector might be, what matters (leaving distributional considerations aside) is whether the benefits from that expenditure exceed the costs. Generalised calls for privatisation, while no doubt satisfying to Libertarians, do not address the issues entailed.

  13. The only “clear” finding from happiness literature is that sex and winning national sporting events make you happy, only in general, as a nation (see Denamrk). How useful is that?

    The only issue is that these people can be employed elsewhere, in higher productivity work, for less inputs at a lower tax rate. How does giving them a choice make them less happy? Therefore they also have more leisure time as well as an incentive to work and invest…thus more time to make love, a better work life balance and bring up Football champions…thus raising aggregate happiness levels is such a thing does exist.

    Your analysis is flawed because you don’t give people a choice. Lowering taxes gives them more choice. How does choice make them worse off? They can simply stick to their old routine and become net savers. After a certain level, wealth may not be directly related to happiness…but beneath a certain level it is and not reforming the public sector would entail denying upward mobility to millions. On the other hand, tax has a negative relationship with happiness, up to a point where it can be avoided through business structures. You’re forgetting about the people without the time to sit around and contemplate their upper middle class oppression.

    Happiness is a personal decision. People can employed doing more at higher wages for less inputs and less hours. What from the happiness literature here stops them from this?

    You’re also assuming aggregating happiness is a terminal measure of policy. What about dynamic wealth effects? Micro and macro reform from reducing the size of the welfare state would have large benefits for employment and wages -i.e. a lot of upward mobility. Don’t you think this will affect happiness as more healthcare etc. can be purchased?

    Finally you connect happiness with economic welfare – they are separate. Wealth is just a measurement of endowments. What people do with this to make themselves happy, is a private matter. Wealth simply affords more options if happiness is your terminal measure of policy. Unless again you are saying that people get hurt by choices.

  14. RS

    If your salary is paid by the govt, then you are entirely dependent upon it. I fail to see your argument. You cannot make the quantum leap that if the govt fired you, the private sector would then magically appear from nowhere.

    The only place you can argue that ‘entirely dependent’ is an exxageration is where welfare recipients are making tidy sums on the black economy.

  15. Taking the RS logic one step further we can claim that children are not dependent on their parents because if their parents died (or snuck out of the country) the children would get raised in an orphanage or by aunts and uncles or even grandparents. So in fact we could claim tha 99.9% of the population depend on nobody.

  16. I’d say there are plenty of fairly happy public servants. (although they can be hard to find). But when it comes to those on welfare, general happiness levels are definitely lower.
    Put simply, people are a lot happier if they can look in the mirror and say they earn a living, support themselves and don’t need handouts from taxpayers.

  17. RS’s argument is plain faffing around with semantics. Pommy’s point is that 47% of the population derive their livelihood from taxes. This is the clear context in which ‘dependency’ is relevant. What could be simpler than that? It’s like saying I am currently dependent on my current job. Well, I am, even if given enough time, if I were fired, I could find another one. Why have all these comments been wasted refuting RS’s silly verbal trick? If he wants to play with words, let him apply for funding from the Arts Council.

  18. TEACHING LIBERTARIANS ABOUT MARKETS

    Are you “entirely dependent”, Bloodypommy, on your current partner to meet your sexual needs? Imagine, for example, that he/she/it were suddenly to leave you. Would this mean that you would no longer get to have sex? Clearly not – if for no other reason that you are already having sex – with yourself – on this website! 🙂

    Similarly, are you entirely dependent on your current (private sector, presumably) employer to make a living? Again, clearly not, becasue if he or she ceased business or fired you, clearly you would go and get a job elsewhere.

    To generalise this, the fact that you source particular goods, services or other iterms (including income) from a particular supplier at present does not mean that you are entirely dependent on that supplier, unless it is a sole supplier of the item. A key point from economics is that, as a unmonopolised market entails many many sellers (as well as buyers), there is always to potential for substitution to alternative suppliers, which any one supplier’s power over a particular buyer. The “income market” indeed has many suppliers. Accordingly, very few people are entirely dependent on any of one of them for an income.

  19. Errm RS we’re talking about colloquial usage here, not about you reading some claim of monopsony into bloodypommy’s statement which is clearly only meant to suggest that 47% of the electorate make their livelihood from the public sector. This is the clear context in which pommy’s statement was made. There’s no need to be a smartarse, a lot of us here have forgotten more about economics than you’ll ever know.

    Your problem is your eccentric comprehension of English,

    1)I will claim that I am currently ‘entirely dependent’ on only my current full-time job for my lvelihood. This is a FACT. I do not have a second job. I don’t have investments which contribute a substantial second source of income.

    2) However if I got fired I could get another job.

    How is my usage of ‘entirely dependent’ in (1) wrong?

  20. “There’s no need to be a smartarse, a lot of us here have forgotten more about economics than you’ll ever know.”

    Economists in frosted glass towers shouldn’t charge like a mad bull at their detractors 117 floors below.

    “Clearly not – if for no other reason that you are already having sex – with yourself – on this website! :)”

    People in glass houses probably shouldn’t virtually masturbate to a satisfied, chaste audience.

  21. Hoist by own petard – let the retorts fly.

    We’re already satisfied with RS’s sloppy economics, we don’t need the virtual pleasure of our own words, whilst he is pleasuring himself with his own.

    I’ll take more time in my next pithy comment.

    If this is about self love, then can RS explain why he/she would be better off with higher taxes or would suffer a welfare loss is taxes were in fact lowered?

  22. JASON IN A JUMBLE

    Your usage in (1) is not necessarily wrong, Jason; but it is beside the point. That is because the statement by Bloodypommy which I criticised was not about on what people are dependent for their current income. Rather, it was about their supposed dependency on the UK government “for a living”. That is a general statement, and it is wrong.

    Of course, you may well again criticise me for semantics, but I don’t see why I should be taken to task for Bloodypommy’s, or your own, imperfect English usage.

    Moreover, even if it seems semantics to you, consider how a public servant would react to Bloodypommy’s initial false statement. It is typical of the mindset of many Libertarians who simplistically equate private sector activity with productivity and usefulness and people in government as layabouts, leaching off the system, and unable to get a “proper job”. Yet, in my own case, I have in the past been offered a private sector job which entailed a monetary income some 30% greater than my then income. Although I didn’t take it, I am clearly not dependent on the government, or your taxes, for a living – and I resent any insinuation that I am.

  23. MARK IN A MUDDLE

    Individual choice, Mark Hill, is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for optimality. Of course, people’s choices often have instrumental value in determining whether particular bundles of items are more valuable than others. But individual choice does not guarantee that the items consumed will be optimal. In the first instance, imperfect information and cognitive limitations may render an individual’s choices privately sub-optimal. In the second instance, externalities and other market features may render individual choices, even if privately optimal, socially sub-optimal. In either case, government intervention – whether it seek to augment choices or over-ride them – can potentially improve things. Accordingly, while lowering taxes may give people more choice, it will not necessarily improve either individual or social welfare.

  24. No, RS my point *does* go towards the substance of Pommy’s post and your semantics don’t.

    Here is what Pommy wrote:

    “An impressive 47% of the UK electorate are now entirely dependant on the State for a living. Which office-seeking political party would, in their right minds, now favour trimming the size of the State when nearly half the population depends upon it? ”

    This is the gist of the article –

    1) a lot of the UK population is currently dependent (in the conventional sense of the term I’ve used it) on the State for their livelihood in terms of employment and/or subsistence.

    2) The higher the percentage of an electorate that is dependent in this sense, the harder it is to cut the size of the State even if this may lead to efficiency gains.

    3) Therefore a reformer who thought there were efficiency gains to be made from cutting the size of the State would face political difficulties in doing so.

    This is clear and logical and your personal feelings over whether you should have taken a private sector job don’t come into it.

    The relevant question here is whether the % of people employed by the State as opposed to merely deriving their pensions or welfare from it would factor into the political dynamics I’ve outlined above which are merely a summary of pommy’s arguments. And the answer is clearly yes, even if these public sector employees could get a job elsewhere. The dis-incentives for politicians to make cuts would still exist, just as for instance

    1) assume 40% of Australian electorate still derived its employment from highly tariff protected industries (i.e. were currently ‘entirely dependent’ in the sense of deriving almost all their income from employment in such industries)
    2) almost all of them would be able to find employment elsewhere if tariffs were cut.

    Now clearly the disincentives for politicians to cut tariffs under my hypothetical would still exist irrespective of (2) and is not at all dependent on the electorate *not* being able to find it easy to find a job elsewhere.

    Similarly Pommy’s political disincentives argument is not all dependent on the over-interpreted notion of dependency you’ve conjured up in your comments. Dependency as you define would be a sufficient condition of Pommy’s politcal disincentives argument but not a necessary condition.

    Hence if anyone’s comments are beside the point it is yours.

  25. Jason

    Indeed.

    RS – Even Lynn Truss would find you a tedious pedant.

    So to the question of how a party that seeks office can propose cuts to the State. I think the answer is that in good economic times like now, it can’t.

    The more interesting (albeit theoretical for now) question is how democracy can be improved (provided you view it as a means to an end – liberty).

    Should votes be tradeable? Should producers have more votes than consumers? Should we return to the Founding Fathers vision of just property owners voting? Or just tax payers?

    Theoretical of course but fun.

  26. “Individual choice, Mark Hill, is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for optimality. ”

    You have a strange definition (i.e. non human inspired) version of optimality.

    “In the first instance, imperfect information and cognitive limitations may render an individual’s choices privately sub-optimal. In the second instance, externalities and other market features may render individual choices, even if privately optimal, socially sub-optimal.”

    1. Why should any other person hold responsibility for other people’s decisions if an individual can make sub optimal choices? – You just want an individual to make choices for many people, with even less information.

    2. Externalities are nice theoretical abstraction. Most externalities are created by a lack of sufficient property rights. Intervention needs to be proven on a case by case basis – like the Kyoto treaty was shown to be bad policy. As the Stern report would be if Sir Nick didn’t use a discounting rate of 0.7% (about one eleventh of the cost of capital). Even if there is a net benefit from intervention, what also has to be proven is that it isn’t an opportunity cost (i.e second best solution).

    “In either case, government intervention – whether it seek to augment choices or over-ride them – can potentially improve things.”

    Naturally, the above applies here. If you give me $100 million, I can potentially cure all disease. So what, you may say. We will say the same to “potential improvements”.

    “Accordingly, while lowering taxes may give people more choice, it will not necessarily improve either individual or social welfare.”

    Lowering taxes gives people more choice because it raises GDP and disposable incomes. How does this reduce welfare or happiness? A diminishing return of happiness to income doesn’t mean more income is making you less happy. It is less effective in making you happy. Ergo, lowering taxes raises social and private welfare and for emotionally healthy people, makes them happier.

  27. Jason – it is amusing when people teach us “Eco 101”, or at least, the bastardised version.

    Economists, professional, academic of all stripes probably spend half of their careers explaining why the the flaws and half truths of Microeconomics 1 and Macroeconomics 1 are wrong.

    Monopoly power, perfect competition, externalities…but we are yet to hear the merits of import substitution!

  28. “If this is about self love, then can RS explain why he/she would be better off with higher taxes or would suffer a welfare loss is taxes were in fact lowered?”

    Indeed. I am sick of the waffle. Will a tax cut make you worse off? Yes or no thank you.

  29. “Although I didn’t take it, I am clearly not dependent on the government, or your taxes, for a living – and I resent any insinuation that I am.”

    Your definition of dependence is if you can’t do any better, than you are dependent on that person or station in life.

    The rest of society calls that success.

    You assert that success, individual choice and increased economic welfare are all harmful to us and our non human inspired happiness.

    You seem to want a build a utopia, but who for?

  30. Let’s make it personal – is your success in keeping the job you like making you worse off because it was an individual decision – or perhaps you would prefer if someone else made that decision for you, because individual choice, as you say

    “is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for optimality”

    ???

  31. Lets get this straight, 47% of the electorate rely for their income on the government. Another 8% have a partial dependence on the state for their income. At this stage no one has disputed the actual figures, so they stand.

    The point Pommy was making was that with this degree of vested interest it would be virtually impossible to run a successful political campaign based on cutting public spending.

    Whether people can get another job, if they lose the current one is irrelevant, the relevant point is whether they will vote to loose that job or that benefit. My contention is that until the status quo skews the economy to the point of disaster, no they wont.

    I have a well-paid job but could do about 50% better if I were to take one further away, which would ironically be easier than what I do now. I do not choose to do so as the current job suits my personal life better. I don’t want to loose my job.

    Nor does any public servant. They may consider leaving that job and taking another but they would want to do it by choice in their own time, and preferably with the new job ready to move in to. They would not vote for the insecurity of not having a job at all and having to look for one, even if they were certain in their own mind that they could get one.

    Put the semantic dribble aside, dependant, reliant, what ever term you want to use, your income is what you depend on for a living, and no one wants to put that under threat.

  32. HERDING JASON

    The only point I made, and sought to make, in my initial post was that Bloodypommy’s statement is incorrect. The argument I put forward supporting my conclusion remains unrebutted, sofar as I can ascertain, and my subsequent explanation of how statements such as Bloodypommy’s tie in with common Libertarian prejudices provides, I submit, a valid reason for me to raise it on this blog site.

    Why Jason should then suggest that my defence of that point is “beside the point”, other than as a mechanism to deflect attention from the shortcomings in his own initial attempt to rebutt me, is not immediately clear.

    Be that as it may, Jason moves quickly on to focus on what he calls “the gist of the article” – not to be confused with “the vibe of the thing”, presumably. Of course, I never sought to address (or disagree with) the thrust of Bloodypommy’s argument. In fact, I happen to agree with it.

    Even so, the fact that many of those 47% are not dependent on government for “a living”, but only for ‘their current source of income’, is relevant for understanding the extent to which political parties would be willing to trim the size of the State given the number of people who (currently) depend on it. Specifically, if all those 47% did indeed face unemployment and destitution in the absence of State employ, then they would indeed have extremely strong financial reasons to vote against parties with such an agenda. But when one realises that many public servants do in fact have employment prospects outside the public sector, such electoral disincentives to trimming the size of the State must be seen to be weaker.

    Naturally, it is another argument again as to whether disincentives against trimming the size of government are a good or bad thing.

  33. LIBERTARIAN DOUBLE STANDARDS? – A NOTE TO POMMYGRANATE

    Its curious that you find me a “tedious pedant”, pommygranate, because in times gone by when I have been seen by Libertarians to slightly misrepresent one of their nostrums, I have been taken to task – in detail, at length, and repeatedly – by outraged members of your sect. So, perhaps whether a correction is seen as “tedious pedantry” or “a careful eye for detail and precision” simply depends on whether the incorrect statement aligns or conflicts with your starting world view.

  34. RS
    You’re a tedious pedant because I’ve taken great pains to explain why my interpretation of ‘totally dependent’ was the correct one, using textual analysis and you’ve totally elided over it. Your defence of the point is ‘beside the point’ simply because pommy didn’t actually mean by ‘totally dependent’ what you claimed he meant.

    Of course I could just point you to pommygranate -surely the original author of a text more than anyone else knows what he meant to say in a text?

    But setting that aside for a moment because you will say that it’s too convenient to accept the direct testimony of the author of the text about his actual intentions, my analysis at 31 is open to you to refute and Jim Fryar makes the same point at 38.

    So now we’ve had
    1) converging textual analysis from 2 different people
    2) your own acknowledgement that my use of the term ‘totally dependent’ is pretty conventional
    3) the author’s own testimony

    If you accept none of these then what the hell are you arguing about? Your claim that pommy meant X when everyone else including pommy says he meant Y is completely unfalsifiable.

    You might as well start composing a poem by randomly selecting bits of pommy’s text. I think we’ve exhausted any potential for rational argmentation here.

  35. Nice technique Jason. If someone points out a flaw in a statement by a Libertarian, you use “textual analysis” to divine that his words really meant something that is not incorrect after all, and then castigate the pedant who pointed out the flaw in the first place. You’re right – I can’t use rational argument against that.

    PS: Your (2) didn’t happen.

  36. “Naturally, it is another argument again as to whether disincentives against trimming the size of government are a good or bad thing.”

    Perverse incentives are good? Once I worked as an electoral worker and a guy asked me who the Liberal candidate was. After telling him I couldn’t help fill out the ballot and said which party each candidate belonged to, he remarked that he was voting for the State liberal candidate because John Howard upped his welfare payments.

    RS’s continuing claim that we are better off because of happiness studies is piffle. Think about the veil of ignorance – he doesn’t care what circumstances he is born into, as long as the group (survey sample) is on aggregate, happy. His proof for being taxed into happiness is that there is a diminishing return to income earning happiness. This doesn’t show a negative or non-existent relationship, just a statistically significant but low impact positive relationship.

    So:

    1. RS finds that there is diminishing returns to income earning happiness.

    2. He/she misinterprets this as a negative relationship between disposable incomes and happiness.

    3. He/she assumes that everyone has a welfare increase (or there is an optimal welfare position) by being made less well off by earning lower productivity at a higher tax rate whilst being more wasteful in an aggregate sense.

    4. Perverse incentives are good.

    5. The veil of ignorance doesn’t matter. Nor does upward mobility witnessed by the positive judgement on perverse incentives. Only people like him who like their jobs and don’t want to earn any more. But by his own definition, his success makes him a dependent mess.

  37. Let’s be reasonable. Marriage and reproduction, or promiscuous sex makes people happy. It is consistent with the happiness literature. RS keeps on insisting that wastefulness makes people better off.

    If people want to be happy and wasteful, they are going to blow $120k on their kids wedding or on drugs and call girls. A quick glance in last weeks obituaries or a stroll down Collins Street on Saturday afternoon shows as much.

    They are not going to give $90k to the State and Federal Treasuries, and then destroy the remaining $30k in specie.

  38. MORE SLOPPY LANGUAGE “INTERPRETATION”

    At the risk of being rude, Mark, I do not intend to respond to your arguments and challenges as your posts misrepresent my earlier arguments.

    For instance, in post 36 you say: “You assert that success, individual choice and increased economic welfare are all harmful to us…”. Where have I said, argued or implied any of this? At most I have argued that increased individual choice does not necessarily enhance welfare. Everything beyond that is a straw man of your fertile imaginations’s creation.

    Likewise, in post 43, you seek to characterise my argument as being that “perverse incentives are good”. Yet the statement that you derived this interpretation from said that “it is another argument again as to whether disincentives against trimming the size of government are a good or bad thing”.

    Now, I know there is a tendency among Libertarians to interpret written statements on the basis of what they think the author meant to say, or would have meant to say if he or she had thought harder about it, rather than what his or her words actually do say. Call me a pedant, but in arguments I typically respond to what people write, rather than what I might wish they had written. I would suggest that this principle warrants reciprocal application.

  39. “Where have I said, argued or implied any of this? At most I have argued that increased individual choice does not necessarily enhance welfare.”

    And yet you argue necessarily to keep taxes high.

    “Likewise, in post 43…”

    Perverse incentives exist. The problems with welfare to work are well known and measureable. Despite this upward mobility problem, you choose to support our current tax mess based on umms, ahhs and maybes.

  40. RS.
    You are a pedant.

    Since your first comment, which was rational but beside the point, I havent a clue what you are on about, or why.

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