Just how many families are there where three generations have ‘never worked’?


In seeking to justify the government’s reforms to the benefits system, Iain Duncan Smith has previously claimed that there exists a situation in Britain where “three generations of the same family have [often] never worked”.

Dole officeFormer National Director of Health and Work, Dame Carol Black, while investigating the UK’s incapacity benefits system, also claimed that there were households in which three generations of men had never worked. Reporting on her comments, the Daily Mail chipped in with the claim that:

“Thousands of children are growing up in families where their parents and grandparents have never worked.”

However all the the evidence shows what an insignificant problem “three generations of out-of-work families” are in the grand scheme of things.

The Labour Force Survey showed that in the spring of 2010 only 0.3 per cent of multi-generational households were in a position where both generations had never worked – or in other words just 15,000 households in the entire country.

Of these, in 5,000 households the younger generation had recently left full-time education within the last year, meaning that they may well have only recently started to look for a job.

Where families don’t live together in the same house (see the British Cohort Study, the National Child Development Study and the British Household Panel Survey) the same holds true. There is very little evidence of even two-generations of families never having worked. Therefore instances of families where three generations have never worked would, one imagines, be even rarer.

Using the straw man of “three generations of out of work families” as rationale for welfare reform is a bit like using Michael Philpott as your example of what a typical user of the welfare state looks like. Oh, hang on a minute.

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  • Charlie_Mansell

    The problem is that the ‘Ukip press’ (can we really call the Mail and Telegraph the Tory Press any more?:) only need a 50-100 cases to fill their news pages for years to come. Philpott generated at least 2 TV full programmes and many news articles before the tragic deaths of his children. Rationally saying this is very few people is just not enough to change minds. These cases are naturally emotional triggers for voters who hold safety and security based culturally traditionalist values. Addressing the small number of families with multiple challenges is actually vital for protecting the welfare of the majority of the rest of people who need such services from being tarred by the Ukip press

  • Lynda Edwards

    Trouble is with IDS targetting those families where no-one has worked in 3 generations he is hurting those who are serious about work – and just cannot convince an employer to take them on in order their careers can continue – or, in the case of younger people, theirs careers can start – in the way they worked hard in studies for!

  • Sparky

    Labour oppose capping benefits. They want to pay out unlimited amounts of public money to people to do nothing. Want to live in a part of town that many working people can’t afford? Don’t worry, the state (that’s other people) will pay the housing benefit. Want a large family, but don’t have the means to support them? Don’t worry, other people will pay for your children.

    Hey, socialists, the public have had enough of it. You can jump up and down all you want telling us that benefit claimants are the salt of the earth and spend all their waking hours trying to find work, but we know different. The tide of mainstream public opinion has turned and it ain’t coming back. Parties that argue for unlimited benefits are unelectable. So you can write all these right-on articles you like, with all sorts of graphs and tables, it won’t make any difference to public opinion.

  • Sparky

    If a person consistently can’t convince an employer to take them on they should look seriously at their CV and their interview technique. Probably one or both are seriously deficient. As for young people, it’s always been difficult starting a career. It was tough in the 80s, the 90s, and it’s tough now. People don’t just hand out jobs to those who ask for one. It’s a competition to find the best candidate.

  • Sparky

    If a person consistently can’t convince an employer to take them on they should look seriously at their CV and their interview technique. Probably one or both are seriously deficient. As for young people, it’s always been difficult starting a career. It was tough in the 80s, the 90s, and it’s tough now. People don’t just hand out jobs to those who ask for one. It’s a competition to find the best candidate.

  • Peter Lockhart

    Sparky. Currently 84% of housing benefit claimants are in work. 92% of new housing benefit claimants are in work. Who’s getting all this, certainly not the benefit claimant, its the landlords who charge to much. The majority of people who get above the benefit cap are actually workers in central London. All that will happen now is hard working people will be in abject poverty paying Landlord rents. Of course, perhaps you prefer just to do what the Tories do and make it up as you go and live your life on anecdotal evidence.

  • freddie mae

    ” 0.3 per cent of multi-generational households were in a position where both generations had never worked – or in other words just 15,000 households in the entire country”

    i didn’t imagine it would be so high! how about how many have worked a week, a month, a year in their lives?!

    that 15,000 households have had nobody work at all in 2 generations shows our welfare state should be scrapped. let’s start again with a clean sheet. we could have eradicated malaria for the money those 15,000 families have cost over 2(!!!) generations.

  • jenb

    housing costs are so high because our population is increasing so much (due to you know what)

    supply and demand – economics lesson 101

  • y.s. Stewart

    I think the 15000 figure is wrong. There are only 300000 multi-generational households in the UK. 0.3 percent of 300000 gives you 900 households. (data taken from the ONS: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/family-demography/families-and-households/2012/stb-families-households.html#tab-Household-type )

  • y.s. Stewart

    I think the 15000 figure is wrong. There are only 300000 multi-generational households in the UK. 0.3 percent of 300000 gives you 900 households. (data taken from the ONS: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/family-demography/families-and-households/2012/stb-families-households.html#tab-Household-type )

  • y.s. Stewart

    I think the 15000 figure is wrong. There are only 300000 multi-generational households in the UK. 0.3 percent of 300000 gives you 900 households. (data taken from the ONS: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/family-demography/families-and-households/2012/stb-families-households.html#tab-Household-type )

  • y.s. Stewart

    I think the 15000 figure is wrong. There are only 300000 multi-generational households in the UK. 0.3 percent of 300000 gives you 900 households. (data taken from the ONS: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/family-demography/families-and-households/2012/stb-families-households.html#tab-Household-type )

  • y.s. Stewart

    I think the 15000 figure is wrong. There are only 300000 multi-generational households in the UK. 0.3 percent of 300000 gives you 900 households. (data taken from the ONS: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/family-demography/families-and-households/2012/stb-families-households.html#tab-Household-type )

  • y.s. Stewart

    I think the 15000 figure is wrong. There are only 300000 multi-generational households in the UK. 0.3 percent of 300000 gives you 900 households. (data taken from the ONS: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/family-demography/families-and-households/2012/stb-families-households.html#tab-Household-type )

  • y.s. Stewart

    I think the 15000 figure is wrong. There are only 300000 multi-generational households in the UK. 0.3 percent of 300000 gives you 900 households. (data taken from the ONS: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/family-demography/families-and-households/2012/stb-families-households.html#tab-Household-type )

  • y.s. Stewart

    I think the 15000 figure is wrong. There are only 300000 multi-generational households in the UK. 0.3 percent of 300000 gives you 900 households. (data taken from the ONS: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/family-demography/families-and-households/2012/stb-families-households.html#tab-Household-type )

  • y.s. Stewart

    I think the 15000 figure is wrong. There are only 300000 multi-generational households in the UK. 0.3 percent of 300000 gives you 900 households. (data taken from the ONS: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/family-demography/families-and-households/2012/stb-families-households.html#tab-Household-type )

  • y.s. Stewart

    I think the 15000 figure is wrong. There are only 300000 multi-generational households in the UK. 0.3 percent of 300000 gives you 900 households. (data taken from the ONS: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/family-demography/families-and-households/2012/stb-families-households.html#tab-Household-type )

  • y.s. Stewart

    I think the 15000 figure is wrong. There are only 300000 multi-generational households in the UK. 0.3 percent of 300000 gives you 900 households. (data taken from the ONS: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/family-demography/families-and-households/2012/stb-families-households.html#tab-Household-type )

  • http://sadbutmadlad.com/ SadButMadLad

    There’s some mixing up going on. The Labour Force Survey is only of men, fathers and sons. Families includes women. If females were included as defined by “famliy” the numbers could double.

  • Sparky

    I live in London. I couldn’t claim housing benefit to live in Chelsea or Islington, and I wouldn’t expect to. I have to live further out because that’s what I can afford. It’s life. I don’t expect anyone to pay my way. And I don’t want to subsidise some family who want to live in a posh part of town. Let them move to a cheaper area. Personal responsibility, not state handouts.

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