Welfare Dependency

… a core concept in Socioeconomic and Political Context and Atlas105

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Concept description

Wikipedia defines welfare dependency as “the state in which a person or household is reliant on government welfare benefits for their income for a prolonged period of time, and without which they would not be able to meet the expenses of daily living.”

In its 2013 report on indicators of welfare dependence (reference below, pdf on right), The US Department of Health and Human Services says:

“Welfare dependence, like poverty, is a continuum, with variations in degree and in duration. Families may be more or less dependent if larger or smaller shares of their total resources are derived from welfare programs. The amount of time over which a family depends on welfare might also be considered in assessing its degree of dependence. Nevertheless, a summary measure of dependence to be used as an indicator for policy purposes must have some fixed parameters that allow one to determine which families should be counted as dependent, just as the poverty line defines who is poor under the official standard. The definition of dependence proposed by the Advisory Board for this purpose is as follows: A family is dependent on welfare if more than 50 percent of its total income in a one-year period comes from AFDC/TANF, FSP/SNAP, and/or SSI, and this welfare income is not associated with work activities. …

“No definition of welfare dependence is without its limitations. The Advisory Board recognized that no single measure could capture fully all aspects of dependence and that their proposed measure should be examined in concert with other indicators of well-being. While the Board’s proposal would count unsubsidized and subsidized employment and work required to obtain benefits as work activities, existing data sources do not permit distinguishing between welfare income associated with work activities and non-work-related welfare benefits. As a result, the data shown in this report may overstate the incidence of dependence on these three programs. …
Also, any definition of dependence represents an arbitrary choice of a percentage of income from welfare beyond which families will be considered dependent. But using a single point – in this case 50 percent – yields a relatively straightforward measure that can be tracked easily over time, and is likely to be associated with any large changes in total dependence, however defined.”

Some commentators say that the term welfare dependency has become part of “the neoliberal lexicon.” For example, in an article entitled “Words matter: deconstructing ‘welfare dependency’ in the UK,” Paul Michael Garrett writes:

“‘Welfare dependency’ circulates around the focal assumption that people are stuck in the quagmire of dependency because of personal deficits and shortcomings. For example, the individuals represented in the dominant narrative of figures, such as Ian Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, remain hazy, falling short of definition as authentic human beings; their entire lives are structured and (ill) organised according to the things they lack – agency, aspiration and a capacity to meaningfully care for those around them. …

“In 2013, a report from the Baptist Union of Great Britain and a coalition of churches succinctly rebutted some of the main assertions promoted by the mainstream parties and shared by a seemingly ill-informed public. For the churches, public perceptions crystallised into six embedded and related myths rooted about the ‘poor’. Thus, ‘they’ are:

  • lazy and don’t want to work;
  • addicted to drink and drugs;
  • are not really poor, but simply are incompetent in managing their money;
  • on ‘the fiddle’;
  • have an easy life;
  • prompted the ‘deficit’ which was causing the ‘austerity’ measures impacting on everyone.

“Clearly, there is a pressing scholarly – and political – imperative to question and interrogate focal words and phrases within the neoliberal lexicon. By not questioning the ‘welfare dependency’ construct we risk solidifying dominant conceptualisations and retrogressive politics.”

Atlas topic, subject, and course

The Study of the Socioeconomic Context for Politics and Policy (core topic) in Socioeconomic and Political Context and Atlas105.

Sources

Wikipedia, Welfare dependency, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welfare_dependency, accessed 18 December 2018.

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Indicators of Welfare Dependence: Annual Report to Congress, 2009-2013. Measuring Welfare Dependence, at https://aspe.hhs.gov/report/indicators-welfare-dependence-annual-report-congress-2009-2013/measuring-welfare-dependence, accessed 18 December 2018.

Paul Michael Garrett (2016), Words matter: deconstructing ‘welfare dependency’ in the UK, LSE Blogs, 7 March 2016, at http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/%EF%BB%BFwords-matter-deconstructing-welfare-dependency-in-the-uk/, accessed 18 December 2018.

Page created by: Alex Wreford and Ian Clark, last modified on 18 December 2018.

Image: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Indicators of Welfare Dependence: Annual Report to Congress, 2009-2013. Measuring Welfare Dependence, at https://aspe.hhs.gov/report/indicators-welfare-dependence-annual-report-congress-2009-2013/measuring-welfare-dependence, accessed 18 December 2018.