Universal Credit
General Election 2024

Ratchets, retrenchment and reform

The social security system since 2010

Spending on social security as a share of GDP has risen slightly since the financial crisis, but the system in Great Britain has undergone profound change over the same time. Large-scale structural reforms have fundamentally altered the system’s rules for working-age families, while working-age benefits have been both cut back and then not fully indexed in line with inflation. In contrast, support for pensioners has been not just protected but bolstered.

But the population that needs to access social security is changing, and rising destitution, record homelessness and child poverty are just the sharpest evidence that the current safety net is inadequate.

This note is the fourth report in a programme of outputs designed to put the upcoming UK general election in context, supported by the Nuffield Foundation. It surveys how the social security system has changed over the last fourteen years, the impact this has had on the people that rely on its support, and the issues that the next government will encounter in shaping social security policy.