Workless families and welfare cuts

“Britain’s social housing estates, once stepping stones of opportunity, are now ghettos for our poorest people,” Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, declared in 2009.

On some estates, “often three generations of the same family have never worked”. This is a familiar line, used to justify harsh cuts in welfare benefits in order to encourage impoverished families to break the habit of joblessness. But is it true?

Not according to research published in December 2011 by the University of Bristol’s Centre for Market and Public Organisation. ‘Measuring the intergenerational correlation of worklessness’ by Lindsey Macmillan looked at households where none of the adults of working age were in paid work, including those in which adult children lived with parents of working age.

In April-June 2010, in only four per cent of such households were both generations workless. And there were very few households indeed in which both generations had never worked: “Only 15,350 households in the UK have two or more generation who report to have ‘never worked’ and of these, many of the younger generation have only been out of education for less than a year”.

Examining fathers and sons: “Sons with workless fathers in weaker local labour markets with high unemployment spend over 25 per cent more time workless than sons with employed fathers. By contrast, there is no significant difference in the time spent workless in tight local labour markets with low unemployment for sons with workless fathers compared to sons with employed fathers.”

“Repeated engagement in jobs failed to provide routes away from poverty, largely because of few opportunities being available in the local job market,” researchers in Teesside found in 2010, in a study published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. “The insecurity of low-paid and low-quality work was the main reason why shuttling between benefits and jobs had been interviewees’ predominant experience of working life,” Professor Tracy Shildrick and her colleagues found. In addition “Caring for children and other family members limited labour market participation, as did health problems.”

“One of the most disturbing aspects is that this marginality occurs among people possessing strong, resilient work motivation and life histories that showed repeated engagement in jobs,” the study concluded.

Punishing the poor still further on the basis of false claims, amidst an economic crisis caused largely by the recklessness of certain sections of the rich, is cruel and unjust.

(c) Savi Hensman works in the care and equalities sector. An Ekklesia associate, she is also a respected Christian commentator on politics, society and religion.

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