Never worked households are three times as common in inner London

24th Sep 2015

Inner London has the highest concentration of never-worked households in the UK, as 3.4 per cent of working-age households are made up of people who have never had a job – almost three times higher than the UK average of 1.3 per cent.

However, the figure is falling, and has almost halved from a peak of 6.6 per cent in 2005.

A new report, What explains the rise in ‘never-worked’ households?, from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and National Institute of Economic and Social Research, analyses the data on never-worked households to find out what is driving the numbers. The analysis suggests that this largely reflects the demographics, rather than a "culture of worklessness".

It finds that, overall, never-worked households are extremely rare. Across the UK, fewer than 1 in 12 workless households are made up of people who have never had a job. Many are likely to be people who are looking for work after leaving home or moving to the UK but haven’t yet got their first job. Others have not worked because of caring responsibilities or disabilities.

The number of households where no-one has worked grew sharply in the late 90s and early 00’s, more than doubling from 115,000 to 260,000 between 1995 and 2005. Since then the number has remained steady, reaching 264,000 in 2012. These figures exclude student households.

The new analysis suggests that the rise may be in part due to the difficulty faced by some young people finding a first job after leaving education. The breakdown also suggests that some lone parents and disabled people are struggling to find jobs that are suitable, or that can be made to fit around caring responsibilities; there may be particular barriers to work for some, especially ethnic minorities and recent migrants, in inner London and other large cities.

The vast majority of never worked households - more than four fifths - only contain one adult. Never-worked households are more likely to be headed by lone parents, younger and single people or disabled people. About one in four is headed by someone aged under 24, compared to 3% of households in the population as a whole, and almost half are headed by a disabled person.

A full breakdown of the statistics about the heads of never worked households finds that:

  • 44% are lone parents
  • 65% are female
  • 38% are single childless people
  • 47% are disabled people
  • 36% are from black and minority ethnic groups
  • 22% are Muslim
  • 34% are non-EU born
  • 21% live in London

The reasons given for not working among never worked households are:

  • Unemployment (37%)
  • Looking after home and family (30%)
  • Long term sickness or disability (19%)
  • Other reasons (14%)

Chris Goulden, Head of Policy and Research at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said “These figures show the difficulty that some people face trying to get onto the first step of the career ladder. People from households who have never worked are more likely to be lone parents, disabled people or aged under 24. These all point to groups who are struggling to find a way into work.

“Never-worked households make up a small percentage of households in the UK, but long-term worklessness is a major problem that can have a devastating effect on physical, mental and financial health. The figures are indicative of wider problems with job opportunities. Employers, schools, colleges and the Government all have a responsibility to create more and better job opportunities which are suitable for people in at risk groups, and provide support for people who need help getting a first step on the career ladder.”

Jonathan Portes, Director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, said: "The phenomenon of never worked households has little or nothing to with a "culture of worklessness" or intergenerational worklessness: rather it seems to reflect that for some specific groups, barriers to labour market entry are particularly high.”  

To bring down the number of never-worked households, lone parents and disabled people who can work need support to get into decent jobs that offer genuine progression. The concentration of never-worked households in inner cities reveals the important role that local leaders, as well as employers, schools and colleges have in helping in the transition into work.