Declan Gaffney has pointed out that the Daily Mail's claim that benefit spending accounts for 24.2% of "Britain's total income" is as truthful as we'd expect from the Mail - which is to say, utter bollocks. My chart shows the true picture; benefits data come from the DWP and GDP from ONS*.
This shows that the share of benefit spending in GDP rose steadily from the late 40s to early 80s, but has since levelled off. In fact, benefit spending in 2011-12 accounted for 10.4% of GDP, less than in the mid-80s or mid-90s.
Note too that benefit spending as a share of GDP fell during the last Labour government.
Also, over half of benefit spending goes to pensioners. The state pension, pension credit and winter fuel payments now account for 5.5% of GDP, compared to 4% in 1997 and less than 2% in the early 50s. This reflects less miserly pensions, plus an ageing population.
Also, since the early 80s, benefit spending has been strongly counter-cyclical. It rose in the early 80s as unemployment rose, fell during the late 80s boom, rose again in the early 90s recession, and fell during the long expansion of the 90s and 00s - a fall which has since been reversed. This suggests that what Keynes said in 1933 is still relevant today: "Look after unemployment and the budget will look after itself."
* Quarterly GDP data are only available from 1955. I've estimated financial year data pre-55 by interpolating annual data.