Britain’s version of austerity is more aligned to the poorest nations of the European Union, according to figures from Brussels which reveal the UK was the only rich EU country to cut welfare spending as a proportion of GDP between 2011 and 2014.
France, Germany and Italy increased spending on welfare, as did the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden and Denmark, Luxembourg, Finland and Austria. Even Portugal, Spain, Slovakia and Poland marginally increased the proportion of national income they spend on welfare.
France pushed spending from 32.7% to 34.3% and Germany raised the level from 28.6% to 29.1%, while Italy managed to commit 30% in 2014 compared with 28.5% in 2011.
But the UK cut the amount it spends on what Eurostat calls social protection (as a proportion of GDP) over the four years from 29.1% to 27.4%.
Its compatriots in the austerity camp are Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ireland, Greece, Hungary and Romania.
Britain is also among the lowest spenders per head of population, matching the EU average, but falling behind Belgium, Denmark, Germany, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Denmark, Finland and Sweden.
France and Germany both spent 131% of the average, though this failed to match the 140% spent by Denmark.
Slovakia spent 52% of the EU average while Ireland managed 87%, bringing it close to Italy’s 98% per capita.
The UK also spent more as a proportion of GDP than any other country on subsidising housing, illustrating the importance since the financial crash in 2008 for successive governments to subsidise tenants in private housing.
Housing benefit accounted for 7.7% of all benefits compared with 1.4% in Spain and 4.2% in Sweden. Only Denmark and the Netherlands come close, spending 6.5% and 6.4% respectively.
Britain is among the majority of nations to spend more on pensions and “old age and survivors” than “sickness, healthcare and disability,” as the European Commission’s statistical agency puts it.
Pensions account for 43.1% of all benefits in the UK compared with 37.2% for the health service and 10.4% for families and children.
Germany is one of the few countries to spend less on pensioners than health, with 39.2% of benefits going to older citizens and 42.8% spent on healthcare.