“The number of homes where no one has ever worked has doubled in little more than a decade.” Government ministers and the press have often cited this statistic as evidence of a growing problem of welfare dependency in the 2000s. This research investigates what drove the substantial increase in ‘never-worked’ households between 1996 and 2005.
It finds that most never-worked households comprise lone parents and younger single people; this has not changed significantly since 1996. The phenomenon largely reflects life stages rather than being a persistent state. A substantial majority of never-worked households were white, UK-born and Christian/no religion. Never-worked households were highly concentrated in London and disproportionately likely to be of (non-EU) immigrant origin, non-white and/or Muslim. These were all highly correlated factors.
More recent falls in never-worked households may have been partly driven by a drop in the number of single-person households comprising people who have never worked. This could reflect in part slower rates of formation of single-person households, combined with greater labour market participation among single parents.
Explanations of the growth (or more recent falls) in the number of never-worked households which refer to a ‘culture of worklessness’ or ‘intergenerational worklessness’ are not consistent with the data.