10 Reasons Welfare Recipients Should Be Required to Work

Top 10 Reasons Able Bodied People On Welfare Should Be Required To Work

We are incredibly lucky to live in a country where people in need are supported at the lowest point in their lives.

In some countries those who cannot work, who find themselves sick or abandoned by those who are meant to be providing financial support have no one and nothing to turn to.  We think that it is vital that this support continues and that people who find themselves in need are provided with a hand up and out of trouble when they need it most.  What we do not believe, however, is that this support should become a lifestyle that people believe they are entitled to as of right.  Therefore we think it is vital that all those who are in receipt of benefits are required to give something back to society whether by joining work experience or workfare programs or by volunteering in their community.

Requirements of work for benefits have been brought in in many different US states and in different countries around the world including the UK and Australia.  These schemes go by many names but in this article we will refer, for simplicity, to workfare.  We believe that workfare works and here are our 10 top reasons why those in receipt of benefits should expect to do some kind of work in return for the support they receive.

  1. Workfare Breaks The Vicious Cycle Of Dependency Culture

Workfare breaks the dependency cycle
Workfare breaks the dependency cycle

If someone loses their job or some element of family support that requires them to rely on some form of benefit for a short period of time it is typically not a problem.  If, however, they come to rely on benefits as a lifestyle it can have disastrous consequences not just for the individual concerned but for their family for generations to come.

Welfare dependency is pernicious.  Studies suggest that over 45% of the population live in a household that is in receipt of a benefit.  This translates to huge numbers; 2010 over 67 million Americans received a benefit including Temporary Assistance For Needy Families, an increase of 8% over the figures for 2009 and increasing all the time.  In previous years much of the support these people now obtain from federal assistance programs would have come from family and friends but it is now all too easy to rely on the federal government.

We are not talking about families who would not be able to exist without this support, as many families would be able to live well even without federal support but will, of course, take it when it is available.  When this happens we end up with a nation with a culture of dependency.  Families see the benefits they receive as their right and end up believing that there is no reason they should have to work.

Requiring people to either work, volunteer or show evidence of job searches would prevent them from falling into this dangerous trap and would, perhaps most importantly of all, free up much needed money to support those who are truly needy.

  1. Workfare Programs Prevent Behavioral Poverty

Work for welfare gives people the tools to get out of poverty
Work for welfare gives people the tools to get out of poverty

As seen above when people become stuck in the benefits system they enter a vicious circle of behavioral poverty that can prove almost impossible to break out of.  The problem such reliance can create was recognized many years ago by the original architect of workfare style programs, President Franklin Roosevelt.  He told America that ‘Continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber.  To done our relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit

Modern day welfare without the requirement to work does just that, it saps the human spirit leaving people impoverished in spirit as well as in cash terms.  We can provide a sticking plaster to help address the material needs of people in poverty but without access to and requirements to work we do nothing to help address their deeper, psychological need to work and the human dignity that comes along with it.

It may seem as though workfare programs ask for slave labor and dehumanize the people who enter into them. That is a particular complaint commonly heard amongst those who oppose workfare on a policy basis.  Indeed some programs (particularly in the UK in the early days) were open to abuse but this can be prevented through good management of the program.  The truth is, unless children see their parents work they run the risk of being trapped in the same cycle of benefit dependency.

  1. Workfare Prevents The Indigent And Lazy From Abusing A System That Is Meant To Benefit Those Who Truly Need It

Requiring people to work for welfare instills good work ethic skills.
Requiring people to work for welfare instills good work ethic skills.

Many people who have need of benefits are genuine claimants.  For some, however, they are a lifestyle choice instead of a safety net.  We are not, by any means, saying that this is true of all welfare recipients but for a significant minority are incentivized, by welfare payments, to do nothing to support themselves.  Why would they?

Just sitting at home and doing nothing has the potential to earn someone on benefits more money than going out to work for the median wage and paying tax on their earnings (see point 4 below).  People are not stupid, if it pays more to sit at home than it does to go out and work they will stay at home.  It is for some people, at least in the short term, a rational response to a situation created by those who mean well but who do not wish to acknowledge the consequences of their actions and decisions.

By requiring people to work for their benefits workfare managed to circumvent many of these problems that are otherwise inherent in a benefits system.  Recipients of benefits do not get the chance to get accustomed to a lazy lifestyle, they maintain a work ethic and sense of personal standards and, as it is easier to get a job when you are already working, are more likely to return to traditional employment than those who are not on a workfare program.   When Maine instituted its new workfare program it saw a drop in claimants for state assistance from 12,000 to a little more than 2,500.  None of the people included in the program were disabled nor did they have young children at home, ie there were no impediments to them working.  By reducing the number of claimants for benefits Maine was better able to target their funds at the people who really need it.

  1. Workfare Systems Provide The Unemployed With Skills They Can Use To Find Employment

Workfare or work for welfare helps people learn valuable skills
Workfare or work for welfare helps people learn valuable skills

One of the key blocks that prevents people on welfare from getting into the job market is the lack of applicable and transferable skills.  This relates not just to key skills such as word processing, for example, but also to other so called ‘soft’ but very necessary life skills.  How to get up in the morning, how to be a motivated self-starter, how to relate to people in a work environment, sticking to deadlines etc.

Think about the type of questions that are often asked at job interviews.  People are asked to demonstrate challenges they have overcome, examples of times they have had to work hard, times they have experienced conflict or other problems in the workplace, examples of times they have had to work to a deadline etc.  These type of key skill questions are almost impossible to answer if the interviewee has not had any work experience.  Furthermore long gaps on a resume always look suspicious, employers often prefer to employ people who have shown a good track record of employment in jobs from which they can ask for a good solid reference.

Workfare systems are able to assist in this, whether it is requiring someone to demonstrate that they have spent a set amount of time searching for a new job, requiring them to volunteer in the community or to do some form of work these systems enable people to find out what it is like to work and to break the habits of benefits dependency (see above).

  1. Workfare Systems Provide A Benefit To Society

Work for welfare benefits is good for everyone.
Work for welfare benefits is good for everyone.

All members of society are required to contribute, through their taxes, to the support of people who need it most.  Very few people would argue that there should be no support, after all many of us are just a few pay checks away from disaster and many more are living hand to mouth only just making ends meet every month. We might all of us, find ourselves in a position where we need temporary assistance.

Welfare may be necessary but it is, sadly, vulnerable to fraud.  In systems where there is no requirement to work for benefits it is not unknown for people to have a job that they do not report to the authorities, from which they earn income in addition to their benefits.  When those in receipt of benefits have to prove they are either in work or looking for work it is much more difficult for them to hold down an unreported job.  Workfare also makes benefits less attractive as a lifestyle choice and discourages the indigent from sponging off the hard working taxpayer.  When people have to work or look for work in order to obtain their benefits those who want a free ride will not apply whereas those who need it will get the support they are entitled to but will also be given assistance to get back on the road to full time employment.

When the levels of fraud are reduced in a welfare system there is more money available to spend on those who truly need it, allowing them to receive support until they are able to enter the workforce again.

  1. Encouraging Welfare Dependency Is A Cynical Ploy To Ensure People Vote Democrat

No one wants more Democrats
No one wants more Democrats

With an important Presidential election coming up this year both main political parties will be looking to secure their traditional support bases and to grow their supporters.  Both parties will be setting out policies that will appeal to their core vote.

Unemployment is a perennial problem and one that successive administrations have battled with, often without success, for decades.  It was only in 1996 when, under pressure from a Republican Majority congress, President Clinton was persuaded to sign workfare requirements into law as a part of the TANF (Temporary Assistance For Needy Families) that significant inroads started to be made into the numbers of unemployed.  Despite evidence that TANF and its associated work requirement really worked Democrats have used every opportunity since that time to roll back the obligations placed on welfare recipients

President Obama removed the work component of TANF because, he said, it prevented people from signing on to welfare.  Instead what he has done is, with one stroke of the pen, given people access to taxpayers money for free.  The number of people on welfare support has increased dramatically over Obama’s two terms of office increasing from 96,197,000 people at the time of his election to 109,631,000 at the time of his reelection, an increase of more than 13 million people on benefits and this number has increased even more in the intervening years.

This has created a broad base of support, those in receipt of welfare benefits with no concomitant obligations know that a republican president will require them to work again, for those people to vote republican would be like turkeys voting for thanksgiving!  Those who support an increase in welfare are not interested in the wellbeing of people who are out of work, they are not interested in helping them find more work, they are only interested in using the unemployed to gain electoral advantage.

This cynical ploy is not limited to the political left in the United States, a similar tactic was seen to be employed by the British Labour Party who were in Government until 2010 and under whose governance the number of people on welfare dependency increased dramatically.

We believe that unemployment is too important an issue for society to be treated like a political football.  Those without work deserve our support not only to maintain their families in the short term but also, longer term, to help them get back to work.  Workfare has been shown to be the best way to do that.

  1. Welfare Dependency Culture Is Fundamentally Unfair To Hardworking Americans

Work for welfare is more fair than the alternative.
Work for welfare is more fair than the alternative.

Analysis undertaken by the Senate Budget Committee has shown that when welfare spending is broken down per American households in poverty those benefits are equivalent to a payment of $30 an hour $5 an hour more than the median wage of $25 per hour!  This source of money is not taxed in the same way as wages so the net result is that anyone in work and earning less than approximately $85,000 is subsidizing people on benefits to earn more than them.

Some families are working two or even three jobs per wage earner just to keep their heads above water, it is not right that others receive support for doing nothing.

  1. Workfare Does Not Unfairly Penalize Those Who Genuinely Cannot Work

There are still alternatives for those that truly disabled and cannot work.
There are still alternatives for those that truly disabled and cannot work.

It is a perennial complaint of apologists for welfare without responsibilities that requiring people to fulfill certain criteria (such as engaging in work or work type activity) before gaining access to their benefits is unfair and prevents those who genuinely need it from accessing the support that should be there for them.

For those people unable to work because of a disability there is separate support provided to them out of the federal disability program.  While this program and its relationship to welfare has a number of deep seated problems it does provide support for those who are genuinely unable to work.

Furthermore TANF is designed to help families with children, all members of TANF programs must be low income families with children and in many cases the program will provide assistance with childcare.  It is of note that while very young children do need a parent at home (or access to high quality childcare); stay at home mothers are typically worse off and less educated than moms who work (a survey showed 12% of working moms in poverty compared to 34% of stay at home moms).  Policies that help women into the workplace once her children are old enough can only be of benefit to the mom, her children and society at large.

  1. Welfare Is Not A Human Right Nor Is It Guaranteed In The Constitution

Welfare benefits are not guaranteed by the Constitution.
Welfare benefits are not guaranteed by the Constitution.

People like to think that access to welfare is an inalienable right.  The truth is that while we all like to think that it is no person has the right to be supported by others for nothing.  This matter was considered by a court in Britain following objections to the introduction of a workfare style system.  While the court ruled that the British workfare system was incompatible with underlying legislation (the Government changed their workfare system to eliminate the inconsistencies) they also considered the question of whether forcing people to work for their benefits was incompatible with their European Human Rights (Britain is, for the time being, required to comply with the European Convention of Human Rights).  The court ruled that welfare was not a human right.

While this ruling is not, of course, binding or even strictly relevant to the US it is noteworthy given the similarity between British and American legal systems and the workfare system under consideration in the case.  Moreover the constitutional rights to welfare are limited.  While there has to be fair and equal treatment of all applicants for welfare payments that the government does decide to provide (ie there can be no discrimination on the basis of race, gender etc) there is no constitutional obligation to provide any form of welfare at all.  For that reason it cannot be considered unfair to require recipients of welfare payments to do some amount of work in return.

  1. Welfare Benefits Are Unsustainable Without Reform

Without reform our current welfare benefit system is unsustainable
Without reform our current welfare benefit system is unsustainable

Welfare, in its current form, just does not work.  We continue to throw more and more money into the bottomless pit of welfare but there has been little real change to the poverty rate since President Johnson declared a ‘War on Poverty’ in 1964.  All welfare has managed to do is contribute to a growth in single parent families, an increase in the crime rates and weakened the once famous American work ethic.

America’s welfare programs are incredibly complex and comprise at least 126 different federal support programs (and a multitude of different state based programs and philanthropic endeavors).  This profusion of programs leads to a number of problems, firstly there are the duplicate costs of administering each program separately.  Some level of unification would help to drive economies of scale and would ensure that vulnerable people are not inadvertently missing out on aid they should be getting just because they do not know about it.



Workfare has been a part of American society since 1996 when TANF was brought in which contained a requirement to work.  Prior to that time the number of people claiming benefits never really decreased.  The workfare program had immediate effect, reducing the number of people entering the welfare system and helping those already on benefits to find work.  The system not only worked but was hugely popular with the public with 83% of Americans supporting the work requirement.  Despite this President Obama took a step backwards for the nation when he removed the need to work from TANF in 2012.

We believe that people should be required to work for their benefits, not just to give back to society but also because it is better for them, in the long run, to be in work.  People should not be treated as slaves and made to work for nothing; the work that they do for their benefits should be real and productive and give them the opportunity to train for the workplace.  When this happens society, employers and the unemployed all benefit.