‘Little evidence’ for culture of dependency

There is little evidence to support the idea of a growing ‘culture of dependency’, according to a study of the causes of poverty. The evidence instead highlights the important role for policy – especially on family-related benefits, work incentives and job creation.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation study looks at what causes poverty, and tries to separate out the roles of factors such as family, employment, geography, education and culture.

Key conclusions

  • Policy on family-related benefits, work incentives (e.g. tax credits and childcare) and the availability of jobs all play a very important role in influencing poverty.
  • The availability of jobs, in particular, matters not just for individual poverty but also to communities, with the geographical concentration of unemployment among young people posing particular problems of ‘scarring’.
  • Welfare benefits are sometimes accused of causing a growing ‘dependency culture’, a loss of personal responsibility, a rise in family breakdown and lone parenthood, and ‘intergenerational worklessness’. But the evidence for this is much less clear and the accusations do not fit well with the facts.
  • Policy may influence attitudes towards work in the longer term – for example, through the increased ‘activation’ of groups who previously had few expectations of work placed on them, such as lone parents.
  • Set against this, however, rising unemployment is likely to be the greatest barrier to poverty reduction in coming years. This barrier is not being addressed under current policy. Instead the policy emphasises supply-side changes, and the behaviours and attitudes of people in poverty, in determining overall poverty rates.

Source: Susan Harkness, Paul Gregg and Lindsey MacMillan, Poverty: The Role of Institutions, Behaviours and Culture, Joseph Rowntree Foundation

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