19 February 2014

Workless Households - Definition

This story starts in the "Express" on 3rd February 2014 where a DWP spokesman was quoted as saying:

"For too long the welfare state has failed families, making a life on benefits simpler than stepping out to work.The number of workless households rose during the boom years while foreign workers stepped in to take jobs. Our reforms are fixing the benefits system"

I was surprised. You'd certainly expect unemployment to go down during a boom so why would things go so badly for "households where where no-one aged 16 or over is in employment"? (Office for National Statistics definition)

So I made a Freedom of Information request to find out what the statistics were. While I was waiting for an answer, I did some searching and found the ONS Working and Workless Households,2013 - Statistical Bulletin. Here I found a link to some raw data. To make things easier, I plotted a chart:

Workless households 1996-2013
In contrast to what the DWP spokesman had said, the number of workless households fell gently for many years until 2009 when a slight hump started. So, were the DWP wrong? Not exactly. The answer is that they were relying on figures for households where no one has ever worked. That does rise during the boom years (Source Working and Workless Households,2013 - Statistical Bulletin)

There's still a mystery though: Why was the spokesman relying on statistics about households where no one has ever worked to make a claim about workless households? I've asked for a FOI review just in case there's a silly mistake somewhere. Wait for the next exciting episode!

 PS: For more about households where no one has ever worked and how statistics about them can be misleading, see here

PPS: (14/3/14) Others have picked up this issue 
PPPS: (28/03/14) DWP has admitted: "On this occasion, the statement provided to the Express should have been worded more specifically to make clear it was referring to the number of households where no one ever
worked." (source)

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