Page last updated at 20:47 GMT, Wednesday, 26 August 2009 21:47 UK

One in six UK homes 'has no work'

A man and a woman walking with a child
The number of children in workless households has risen

More than one in six UK homes which house at least one person of working age does not have anyone in employment, official statistics show.

This is the highest rate since 1999, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

The number of workless households hit 3.3 million in April to June, a 240,000 rise compared with a year earlier.

The issue was most acute in the north-east of England, and the lowest rate was in the eastern region of England.

A workless household is defined by the ONS as a home which includes at least one person of working age, where nobody aged 16 or over is in employment.

As a result, the workless household figure is higher than the number of people who are counted unemployed - 2.35 million - as it includes people such as early retirees, full-time students or those receiving disability benefit who are not included in the official unemployment statistics.

Employment Minister Jim Knight said the government was investing an extra £5bn to help get people back into work.

"The number of children in workless households remains over 200,000 lower than in 1997 as a result of Labour's reforms," he said.

"But the credit crunch is still affecting families everywhere, and that's why programmes such as the £1bn Future Jobs Fund to create 150,000 new jobs are so important."


The proportion of households where no adults work rose by 1.1% in April to June 2009 compared with the same period a year earlier, to 16.9% - or nearly one in six working-age households.

Elizabeth Malcolm

This was the highest rate since 1999 and marked the largest year-on-year increase since comparable statistics were first collected in 1997.

The rate was highest in the north-east of England - 23.2% - and lowest in the east of England - 12.2%.

Of the households that are workless, the rate was highest in lone-parent households, at 40.4%, followed by one-person households, at 30.1%.

But the proportion of lone parents who are in work has risen again. This was up 0.4% in the second quarter of the year compared with the same period a year ago, to 56.7%.

More married and cohabiting fathers are spending time at home, rather than at work, the figures show. The employment rate of this group showed the largest fall, down 2.1% to 88.8%.

Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have criticised the government over the figures.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Theresa May said the data painted "a bleak picture".

"Unless Labour takes some decisive action, we risk losing a generation of young people," she added.

The Liberal Democrats' work and pensions spokesman, Steve Webb, said the government had to ensure the unemployed were given more help much earlier.

"The alarming jump in the number of households where no one is working is a sure sign that the recession will have a devastating impact on hundreds of thousands of families." he added.

'Recession effect'

The total number of working-age people in workless households stood at 4.8 million in April to June 2009, up 500,000 on a year earlier.

The number of children in workless households also increased, the figures show. This was up 170,000 to 1.9 million.

"The distribution of unemployment among households has the effect of concentrating the negative consequences of worklessness among families where no family member works," said John Atkinson, associate director at the Institute for Employment Studies.

"Eighteen months ago, worklessness was in decline. Government programmes encouraging lone parents and the long-term sick back into employment were a part of that success story. Today we can see that the recession is unravelling much of that progress.

"The concentration of worklessness among families has serious consequences for the children within them, and this cuts directly across government policy on child poverty."

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