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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