Official figures show there are 3.7m households in the UK where no one works, down 153,000 on a year earlier
Ministers have heralded a fall in the number of workless households – by 153,000 to 3.7m – arguing that the coalition’s welfare reforms are working.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that in the three months from April to June 2012 over which the data was collected there were 3.68m UK households with at least one member aged 16 to 64 where no one was working.
This represented 17.9% of households and was a fall of 0.8 percentage points, or 153,000 households, on a year earlier – the second consecutive fall. However this was from the record high of 19.2% of all households in 2010, and some way off the pre-recession figure of 17.4%.
Chris Grayling, the employment minister, said: “These are encouraging figures. Through our welfare reforms more people are entering the workplace and more children are living in a household that works.
“However, we can’t be complacent. The economy remains a substantial challenge, which is why we need the right employment support to ensure that those living in workless households and their children are given the opportunities and help to succeed.”
About two-fifths of the 5 million people who were workless were aged between 50 and 64, leading many to speculate that the fall in workless households was due to those people withdrawing from the labour market by taking early retirement.
The ONS said: “Some of the workless people aged 16 to 64 give study or retirement as their reason for not working.” If fully retired and student households are removed, the number of workless households in the UK is 2.92m.
Over the past 15 years there has been a fall in the percentage of lone-parent households with dependent children that are workless from 52% in 1996 to 37% in 2012. The first part of this fall happened between 1996 and 2006, and the proportion then remained flat for a few years but fell by about 2% between 2011 and 2012.
According to the ONS, “comparing lone parents and couple households, the latter have a much lower chance of being a workless household”.
Graeme Cook, associate director for family, community and work at the Institute for Public Policy Research, said households were a “problematic measure because they don’t measure the same people year on year. If two single workless people get together then you get one workless household instead of two.”
The data also showed there was also a fall of 36,000 in working households – those with at least one person aged 16 to 64 where all adult members are in work.
Cook said the real puzzle was that while the economy was still contracting, jobs were being created. Since the start of the recession at the beginning of 2008, employment has fallen by less than 1% while GDP has fallen by approximately 4% over the same period.
“What we have seen is falls in productivity, with a rise in reported self-employment and part-time work. It’s basically underemployment. Now that is not a bad thing, it’s just more complicated than saying it is about welfare reform,” said Cook.