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Workless households rise 5% to 370,000

Thousands of people ‘abandoned to lifetime on benefits’ says minister as figures reach 10-year high

The number of households in which no adult has ever worked has risen by more than 5% in a year to 370,000, the highest number in a decade, according to official figures.

Even if student residences are stripped out, the figures from the Office of National Statistics show that there were 297,000 households where every adult has “never had paid work” – higher than the biggest previous figure of 284,000, recorded between April and June 2008.

With Prime Minister David Cameron’s pledge to target the bottom 120,000 families in British society for help, most of the government’s emphasis is on getting these households into work. Already earmarked for such schemes is £100m from the European social fund and another £40m raised from private investors for social investment bonds.

Ministers can take heart from the fact that the number of households in the UK where no one is currently working has fallen slightly to 3.87m – a drop from last year’s record peak of 3.92m. Although a quarter of the figure can be explained by those wealthy enough to own their home outright, much of the fall in workless households – mostly in the council, social and rented housing sectors – is due to Labour’s unemployment schemes, which end this year.

The biggest fall in workless households was driven by an 82,000 cut in the number of people classed as inactive, while there was a 37,000 increase in the numbers who were unemployed.

There remains a significant north-south divide. The north-east had the highest percentage of workless households: a quarter of homes in the area fell into this category. The south-east had the lowest numbers, with one in seven households classed as workless.

The percentage of children in workless households was 15.8%, down 0.3% from a year earlier, but there was still concern that 1.84m children are in workless households. Over the same period, the percentage of children in working households increased slightly by 0.1% to 51.4%.

At the bottom end of society, older people also appeared to be picking up jobs faster than younger people. The largest fall in the percentage of people living in workless households was for those aged 50-64, down 0.4% to 21.1%, while for those aged 16-24 the figure increased by 0.6% to 14.2%.

This year the coalition will introduce its radical Work Programme, which offers larger payouts for private companies that manage to get people in jobs for sustained periods. The government also pointed out that the percentage of households where all adults were in work was 53.5%, up 0.5% from a year earlier.

Employment minister Chris Grayling said: “While the slight fall in the numbers of workless households and children living in workless households is encouraging, these figures still underline the sheer scale of the challenge we face.

“Over the last decade thousands of people were simply abandoned to a lifetime on benefits, and a staggering 1.84 million children are living in homes where no one works.

“This is why we launched the Work Programme this summer, which will give tailor-made support to help people get off benefits and get into work, while our overhaul of the benefits system will ensure that work is always the best option.”

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