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3 June 2011

A depressing statistic for Labour

The number of households in which no one has ever worked nearly doubled under Labour.

By George Eaton

The news that the number of households in which no adult has ever worked almost doubled between 1997 and 2010 receives a lot of attention in this morning’s papers. Well, I say news, but the figures have actually been available since 26 January 2011. However, it’s only now they’ve been included in the latest ONS Social Trends report that they’re receiving the attention they deserve.

The headline finding is that the number of households in which no one has ever worked rose from 184,000 (1 per cent) in 1997 to 352,000 (1.7 per cent) in 2010. If we strip out “student households”, those in which all adults are aged between 16 to 24 and in full-time education, the figure is 269,000. Below are the figures in graph form.

Never worked households

352,000 households never worked


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But if that wasn’t bad enough, the ONS found that 68 per cent of those eligible for full-time employment (i.e. not students) were “not seeking a job and would not like to work”. We can argue about the extent to which a “dependency culture” exists in the UK but it’s hard not to see that statistic as evidence of one. Of the remaining 32 per cent, 16 per cent were not seeking a job but “would like to work”, and 13 per cent were “looking for and available to work”. The final 3 per cent are apparently unaccounted for.

Most depressingly, around a quarter of a million children under 16 years old are living in households where none of the adults has ever worked. Gavin Poole, the executive director of the Centre For Social Justice, argues that the figures make the case for Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms.

“These figures show why it is essential to reform the benefits system to ensure that it pays to work. Many of the people who say they are not looking for work have made a rational economic decision based on the current rules. They have made a decision based on what they are going to lose if they enter the workforce.”

So far, Labour has been constructively critical of the proposed universal credit, praising the coalition’s good intentions but warning that the reforms will only succeed if the economy creates more jobs. As even Duncan Smith concedes, this is a “dreadful period” to attempt welfare reform. His vow to make work pay will ring hollow to those for whom there is no work. But today’s figures, one suspects, will strengthen the consensus that the status quo is untenable.