In trying to explain last week's riots, one of the most popular explanations amongst people on the right is that they were caused by 'welfare dependency'. In other words, pockets of society have become so infected by a 'something for nothing', irresponsible welfare culture that it ultimately culminated in the mass looting across England last week. The solution is to reform welfare even more radically, so that a 'life on benefits' is an option for no-one.
There's a simple way to see if conservatives are correct about this. Notably, the riots only took place in England with no similar events occurring in Wales or Scotland. These were peculiarly English riots.
Thus, if 'welfare dependency' is really to blame, we would expect to see a clear statistical trend: higher levels of dependency in England, lower levels of dependency elsewhere. If we say that 'welfare dependency' (which is a crude term anyway) can be measured by the proportions of people in each region who are economically inactive and/or dependent upon out-of-work benefits, we can simply compare different regions. The welfare dependency thesis would lead us to predict that the affected regions would be the most economically inactive/benefit dependent.
Economic inactivity and benefit receipt by region
The graph above shows that there are no notable differences between the three affected regions (West Midlands, North West and London) and the two unaffected regions (Wales and Scotland). Indeed, out of all five regions, it is Wales which has the highest level of economic inactivity and the highest proportion of ESA/incapacity claimants.
The statistics just don't add up for people who think the welfare state is linked to the outbreaks of violence and looting this week. Not only do Wales and Scotland have extremely similar benefit caseloads as the rioting regions, they have a much stronger culture of welfare and social justice. Both countries are distinctly social democratic in comparison to conservative England, so the idea that either liberal criminal justice policy or social democratic welfare policy is to blame for the English riots looks to be unempirical nonsense. It is important that such arguments are heard before the Government takes its chance to cut the welfare state even further.