Video: Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi completely and utterly wrong on Newsnight

Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi made a particularly egregious claim about workless households on last night's Newsnight.

On last night’s edition of Newsnight, presenter Victoria Derbyshire asked Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi about the government’s welfare policies and his own family’s experiences of living on benefits.

During the debate, Mr Zahawi claimed that “2 million children [were] living in a household where nobody has worked”.

Nobody would disagree with that, replied Labour MP Debbie Abrahams.

Well actually we would disagree with that assertion; mainly because it is utter hogwash.

According to the statistical bulletin on working and workless households put out by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in August 2013, there were 1.6 million children living in a household where no one has a job. However that 1.6 million does not refer to households where no one has ever worked; it simply refers to households where everyone is currently out of work.

Even if it did refer to the former, though, it is still well short of 2 million.

The 1.6 million figure is also cyclical – it has more to do with the number of available jobs than it does with people not wanting to get jobs. As the graph below shows, the number of workless households gradually decreased during the boom years, before spiking during the recession only to go down again as the economy recovered.

In terms of children living in households where no one has ever worked, it is quite hard to find an exact figure. What we can be sure of, however, is that it is a much smaller number than the 2 million cited by Zahawi.

Analysis carried out by the TUC in 2010 at the height of the recession found that there were just 20,230 households characterised by inter-generational worklessness; and even the ONS found in its 2013 analysis that there were only 224,000 households containing only people who have never worked – many of which were presumably households containing no children.

Either way, Zahawi is completely and utterly wrong to refer to “two million children living in households where nobody has worked”.

(Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that he has a shoddy grasp of the figures – this was after all a man who claimed ¬£5,822.27 to cover electricity and heating oil for his estate in Warwickshire – as a “mistake”.)

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9 Responses to “Video: Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi completely and utterly wrong on Newsnight”

  1. bluecatbabe

    I’ve just sent her this email.

    Dear Debbie Abrahams,

    I appreciate your appearance on Newsnight last night opposite Nadhim Zahawi MP, but there is one thing I must take issue with. Why on earth did you agree with his patently false claim that 2 million children live in a household where nobody has ever worked?

    It doesn’t even look plausible at face value, and when you come to the actual figures, it is a ridiculous claim. Yet you said that “nobody would disagree” with it. The actual figures do disagree, wildly.

    The Office of National Statistics, as of August 2013, found that 1.6 million children live in a household where no adult is currently working. The key word there is currently. Not ‘never’ worked. It includes, for example, single parent families where the parent is for the moment engaged in childcare. People are put out of work by variations in the economy – and by deliberate government policy – so the length of time people stay out of work varies too.

    The ONS estimates that in the entire country, there are 224,000 households where nobody has ever worked. I agree it’s a lot, and it is a problem, but it’s a small one, far smaller that the Conservatives would have us believe. That’s less than a quarter of a million. I can’t find figures for how many of those ‘never working’ households contain children because the ONS does not collect them, but for what Zahawi said to be true, every single one of those households would have to include 4 or 5 children. How likely is that, do you suppose? And, as we know from the ONS figures for households with children cited above, it simply isn’t happening. You can check the figures here:

    The problem with you agreeing to Zahawi’s nonsense is that you and the Labour Party are failing to challenge the Conservative narrative about unemploment and social security, which means you have in effect conceded the terms of the debate. And they are having the debate based on blatant lies. I’m sure you’ve seen the old computer programming acronym GIGO – garbage in, garbage out. If we put garbage – lies and misrepresentation of this kind – into the public discussion on unemplyment and the role of social security we will get garbage out, via a misled and misinformed electorate.

    We know why the Tories are doing this: they want to dismantle the consensus state that the Labour Government of 1945 built out of the wreckage of World War II. But why on earth is the Labour Party playing along with them? At the very least, you could be decently briefed about the actual facts before you go on TV. That is what the ONS is for, after all.

    Best wishes.

  2. ekklesia

    Excellent letter. Hope others will follow suit, and also write to Ed Miliband about this. Conceding the narrative on welfare, benefits and austerity is *the* big problem.

  3. GO

    It’s an excellent email, but I’m going to have to point out that this –

    “I can’t find figures for how many of those ‘never working’ households contain children because the ONS does not collect them, but for what Zahawi said to be true, every single one of those households would have to include 4 or 5 children.”
    – is wrong. These households would have to include more like 9 children on average. (224,000 x 9 = 2,016,000).

  4. bluecatbabe

    Ooops! You’re quite right, of course! Thanks for pointing it out.

    I must have been thinking of 1 not 2 million children. This is why I don’t work for the Office of National Statistics myself!

    It also makes Zahawi’s lie even more egregious: there are hardly any households in the country with 9 children.

  5. GO

    Even that makes the whole scenario sound more plausible than it is. If you assume that half of those 224,000 households don’t include children, for instance, that would mean the other half actually needed to include 18 children each, on average! He’s almost certainly wrong by an order of magnitude – i.e. the number of children in households where no-one has ever worked is bound to be more like 200,000 than 2,000,000.

  6. Edwintheslugcrusher

    Will he be invited back on to News Night to correct his statement?

  7. RomJim

    In fairness to Debbie Abrahams, it appeared that she was trying to get into the “discussion” and was clearly excluded from it while the routine propaganda came from Nadhim Zahawi MP. Her attempts to focus on the sanction culture were ignored but also not helped by the statement that a sanction system had been in use for 100 years. All round a poor performance.

  8. Crane

    I saw this he filibustered his way to the end of the interview to prevent her from speaking. There was precious little effective moderation b y the presenter.
    He was thoroughly obnoxious

  9. Dave Roberts

    Yes, why did Debbie Abrahams agree with the claim? I sit because she isn’t on top of her brief?

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