Workless households: another success the government doesn’t want you to know about
Yesterday new statistics showed that the proportion of working age households who were workless was lower in 2010 than in 1997 – despite an increase after the global recession hit this country. There was even more good news: the proportion of children living in workless households was also lower in 2010 than in 1997 and the number of children fell by more than a third of a million.
I held off blogging about this until today because I wanted to double-check whether DWP Ministers would say anything about these figures.
Of course they didn’t – it was good news and they seem only to be interested in bad-mouthing the achievements of the Department they run.
You may remember that, at the start of the month the Office for National Statistics published a press release, noting that “the number of households where no one has ever worked almost doubled between 1997 and 2010.” The Secretary of State didn’t keep quiet about this, and argued that:
These figures show the appalling inheritance we received from the last Labour Government.
Several news reports quoted the figures as showing that:
Workless households almost doubled under Labour
(Actually, confusing households where no-one of working age has ever worked with the total number of workless households can be a serious mistake: there are 352,000 of the former, 3,913,000 of the latter.)
Now, I’m not saying that Ministers should adopt a self-denying ordinance that prevents them from commenting on figures that show their predecessors in a bad light. That would be to mistake politicians for saints – as serious a category error as anything I’m writing about today. But the contrast with the total silence about yesterday’s figures is very illuminating.
As I noted a few days ago, the current DWP team seems to have an aversion to publicising anything that shows their Department in a good light. And the latest figures on working age households are definitely good news.
Between 1997 and 2010, the proportion of working age households that was workless was lower in 2010 than in 1997:
This is despite an unsurprising increase after the recession. (In each year, the figures are for the April – June quarter.)
The decline in the proportion of children living in workless households was even more noticeable:
And the decline in the proportion of children in lone parent families who live in workless families was sharper still: from 50.6% to 39.7%.
Of course, the “never worked” workless families are an important part of the overall story, but they aren’t the whole of it. And i want to return to this issue for my final point.
Most of the press coverage of IDS’s assault on Labour simply followed the Press Release I mentioned (and the helpful briefings they doubtless received from the DWP press office) but that Press Release was based on the publication of the latest edition of Social Trends.
It’s worth going back to the relevant chapter and having a look at the full text of what it said. If you turn to page 17, you’ll find the following table:
If you look at these “never worked” households the problem starts to look a lot less terrifying. One point is that more than eighty thousand are student households.
Of the rest, more than a hundred thousand are lone parents and it shouldn’t surprise us a great deal when a lone parent has never been been able to do a paid job for as long as she or he has had a household to be head of.
Many of the students and lone parents will get jobs one day (if the labour market recovers) and just 22,000 (8.2%) are couple households who might possibly fit the “feckless family” stereotype that populates the nightmares of right-wing columnists.
Between 1997 and 2010 the working age population grew strongly – by 8.9%. Against that background, reducing the proportion that was workless was a significant achievement and one that the Department for Work and Pensions can take some pride in.
It is a pity that their Ministers don’t seem able to share it.