Under Labour there has been a steady growth in welfare ghettos – unemployment did not disappear during the "boom years". It was merely disguised, renamed, and hidden away in ever-growing pockets of poverty. The latest census data shows 2 million people in this country have never had a job; almost three million people have not worked under this Labour government. Not everyone can work, those with severe disabilities or those who do an invaluable job as full-time carers or parents of young children. But at the same time we should not shy away from demanding more of those who can work and often desperately want to.
Within these figures are over 100,000 people who classify themselves as unemployed and able to work but have never had a job. There are a further 140,000 people who are unemployed but have not worked since 1996. But many of those covered in these statistics will not appear in the unemployment figures at all. No doubt the figures will cover some of the 800,000 people who have been on incapacity benefits for over 10 years. They will include lone parents which the state has told not to bother trying to work until their youngest child was 16. They will include some of the record numbers of Neets – young people not in employment education or training – who often don't appear in the benefit figures at all. If you take together the costs of paying jobseeker's allowance, incapacity benefit, and income support, combined with housing benefits and council tax benefits paid to those who are out of work, the benefit bill for Labour's 12 years of welfare dependency totals over £300bn.
There are communities in Britain where more than half of working age adults are out of work and dependent on benefits. Nearly one in six children is growing up in a workless household. Worklessness has become a generational problem – passed from father to son, mother to daughter. Report after report has laid out the problems children growing up in workless households face: they are more likely to fail at school, become involved in criminal behaviour, develop addictions to drink and drugs and ultimately end up workless themselves. A vicious cycle has emerged.
This is an extract from a speech given yesterday by the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary to Policy Exchange, a think tank