On the dole


What's the meaning of the phrase 'On the dole'?

Unemployed and in receipt of state benefit. This expression is used worldwide but most commonly in the UK and Australia.

What's the origin of the phrase 'On the dole'?

The word dole has been used since the 13th century to refer to a charitable gift given to the poor. This derives from the ‘doling out’, that is, ‘handing out’ of charitable gifts of food or money.

WWI soldiers were the first people to be said to
be ‘On the dole’.

The expression ‘on the dole’ is much more recent. First World War soldiers who had returned home to unemployment were given the UK’s Unemployment Benefit. These soldiers were referred to as being ‘on the dole’.

The first example that I can find of the phrase in print is from March 1925, when it was recorded in a story in the Westminster Gazette, with this caption:

3,000 Aliens on the Dole.

Trend of on the dole in printed material over time

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.