The general aim of the social security programme is to provide an efficient and responsive system of financial help for people who are elderly, sick, disabled, unemployed, widowed or bringing up children. Certain benefits provide an income for people who have little or no earnings because they are retired, unemployed or sick. Others provide income for widows; assistance with extra expenses arising from disablement; compensation for injury or disease caused at work or while in the armed forces; and help with the cost of bringing up children. Alongside these benefits are certain income-related benefits for people who have insufficient means of support.
Social security benefits fall into two broad categories – contributory and non-contributory. Contributory benefits are paid from the National Insurance Fund, which consists of contributions from employed people and their employers, self-employed people and the Government. Non-contributory benefits are financed from general taxation revenue. Some non-contributory benefits are income-related, but others are not, and entitlement depends solely on meeting the qualifying conditions. Appeals relating to claims for the various benefits are decided by independent tribunals.
Expenditure on social security has nearly doubled in real terms since 1980. Trends over the last 5 years have included a steady growth in the number of retirement pensioners and the numbers receiving income-related benefits, and a steep rise in the numbers getting disability benefits; a decline in the numbers of families receiving child benefit, the number of widows, and the numbers receiving unemployment benefit.
The Department of Social Security administers most of the services in Great Britain; in Northern Ireland they are administered by the Department of Health and Social Services. Pensions and welfare services for war pensioners and their dependants are the responsibility of the Department of Social Security throughout Britain. The costs, including the costs of administration, fall on central government.