Are 40% of welfare claimants pensioners?

7 April 2017
What was claimed

Roughly 40% of people on welfare are pensioners, and 10% or 20% are taking in-work benefits.

Our verdict

We haven’t found figures to back this up. Around 56% of all welfare spending in Great Britain went to pensioners in 2016/17, counting pensions as part of the welfare bill.

"People forget actually that maybe 40% of people on welfare are actually old-age pensioners... another 10% or 20% are taking in-work benefits."

Diane Abbott MP, 6 April 2017

We haven’t found figures to back up Ms Abbott’s claim. In fact there don’t seem to be any readily-available estimates of the age of people claiming welfare benefits overall. It’s possible to get this for individual benefits, but this doesn’t answer the claim. We’ve asked Ms Abbott’s office for the source.

The most claimed welfare payments are claimed entirely or predominantly by pensioners—provided you count pensions as welfare. Just under 16 million people got a Christmas Bonus last year (£10 paid to people who get certain welfare payments), 13 million got the State Pension and 12 million got a Winter Fuel Payment.

These figures just relate to Great Britain as the Northern Ireland Executive is responsible for welfare payments there.

There’s a huge overlap here: most people who claim the State Pension get the Christmas Bonus and Winter Fuel Payment automatically.

As a rough estimate we could be looking at around 13 million pensioners who claim welfare payments in Great Britain. So for Ms Abbott to be right, we’d need to find something like 20 million people of working age or children receiving other payments.

The biggest bulk of that would have to be the 7.4 million families claiming Child Benefit for nearly 13 million children, for example. You’d also have to consider big caseloads like tax credits and housing benefit. Again, we can’t produce an estimate here because some people will claim several of these at once.

Finally, it’s possible to get a clearer picture by just looking at what’s spent on welfare rather than who’s claiming it. An estimated 56% of all welfare spending in Great Britain goes to pensioners. That’s been rising since 2009 when it was 52%, as government spending policies since then have largely protected pensioners.

Correction 10 April 2017

We have corrected a typo.

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