Cautious welcome to decline in families without a wage earner

The Office for National Statistics warns drop has not occurred solely from people finding jobs

The grim phenomenon of households without a wage earner is on the decline, according to the latest official figures from the Office for National Statistics.

In the three months from April to June this year, 17.1 per cent of households containing at least one adult aged between 16 and 64 had no one in paid work, the lowest figure since records began in 1996. That figure stood at 17.9 per cent in the same period of 2012 and 19.2 per cent in 2011.

Although this is good news, a note attached to the ONS figures points out that it has not all come about by people finding jobs. The total number of households in the UK had been going up steadily since 1996, rising faster than the rate of increase in the population as people chose to live in smaller family units. But this year it went down, which partly explains the latest fall in the number of workless households. In addition, some households will have fallen off the list as their occupants went past the upper age limit.

Even so, the number of adults living in workless households has fallen by 132,000 year on year to 4.9 million – the first time that figure has been below five million since the 2008 banking crisis.

There are other reasons apart from unemployment why there might be no one in a household drawing wages or a salary. People may choose not to work because of early retirement or studying, or because they have children to look after, or be unable to because of disability.

Predictably, the households which have the highest chance of having no wage earner are those with a lone parent with young children. They make up 36 per cent of workless households, where homes comprising  a couple with young children make up 5 per cent.

One specific group of workless households is made up of those where no one has ever had a job. There are 500,000 adults aged under 65 living in 297,000 households where no one has worked – though 48 per cent of that number are students, 18 per cent are disabled, and 10 per cent unemployed.

Mark Hoban, the employment minister, said: “Helping people off benefits and into work is one of the Government’s top priorities, so it is good news that the number of workless households has fallen by more than 425,000 since the coalition took office.”

But Stephen Timms, the shadow employment minister, said: “Any fall in worklessness is welcome, but the truth is Britain’s unemployment crisis is far from over. Underemployment is at record highs, long-term unemployment is at its highest level for 17 years, and the number of young people out of work is edging back towards a million.”

Children’s charities including Barnardo’s and The Children’s Society welcomed the fact that the number of children living in workless households was falling. Around 14 per cent of children in the UK now fall into this category, two-thirds of whom are in single-parent households.

However, the charities stressed that a move into work did not necessarily mean a move out of poverty, and urged the Government to cut childcare costs for families on low incomes.

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