Worklessness: why worry?

Worklessness: why worry?

24th May 2013

Today the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) publishes Signed On, Written Off: An inquiry into welfare dependency in Britain. This is the first of six ‘state of the nation’ reports which comprise our new Breakthrough Britain II series.

The report reveals how the UK’s worklessness crisis is not primarily a product of the recession but actually preceded it. The number of people claiming out-of-work benefits has hovered around four million for more than 15 years – since well before the crunch. Even more alarming is that some neighbourhoods have more working-age people claiming benefits than in work. In one neighbourhood in Denbighshire it is close to 70 per cent.

While the labour market is undoubtedly tough and there are places around the country where there aren’t enough jobs to go round, this ‘no jobs’ analysis is, by itself, too simplistic – there are still far too many barriers preventing people from entering work.

We explore a growing skills gap which is leaving many UK employers unable to fill their vacancies. We set out how some Jobcentres are failing to provide even the most basic support to those who need it most. We show how social housing can trap people in areas of the country where too few are in work. We also acknowledge how the changing nature of employment is making work less secure. All of this combined with the rising cost of living is making life extremely tough for many families. It is perhaps no wonder why worklessness remains such an entrenched problem today.

And what is the consequence of all of this? Why does it all matter? Because – as 85 per cent of people we polled agreed – work is undeniably the best route out of poverty. Children in households where both adults are in full-time work only have a one per cent chance of living below the financial poverty line.

But the problems of worklessness run much deeper. Anyone who has seen somebody close to them experience a long period of unemployment will know just how damaging it is to their confidence, self-esteem and emotional well-being. And for children, growing up in a workless household means they are more likely to be workless later in life. One study shows that boys are over twice as likely to experience workless spells themselves if they come from a family where the father was not in work throughout childhood compared to a father who was.

Yet none of this is inevitable. The first Breakthrough Britain project exposed a welfare system that was trapping people on benefits and established the principle that work should always pay. The next phase of our research will look at what else can be done to remove other barriers to work so that more people can be helped into jobs and, ultimately, into economic independence.