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August 29, 2007


Luis Enrique

That number surprised me - more fool me I suppose. What can be done about it? fannying around with marginal taxation rates, funding training and subsidising employers to run apprenticeships etc. might make some dent, but how much of one? If we were really serious about wanting to cut this number, what would we need - decent-paying state created jobs combined with benefits-based coercion (take the job or lose the benefits)? But that smacks of the Victorian workhouse*. What else is there? Or have I underestimated role of marginal tax rates etc.? You can say CBI, but if that's going to leave people wanting to work rather than bum around, it's going to have to be pretty miserly.

That said, how low ought this number to be in an ideal world? Perhaps, for reasons I can't immediately grasp, the optimum isn't too far off 15%. It's consistent to say that no-work households tend to have bad effects and yet the optimal number is not zero, isn't it?

* mind you, I don't see why the state does not expand employment of street cleaners and general environment prettyfication services**. Clean up a few railway sidings, verges, parks etc - plant some shrubs. Bloody country's a dump.

** Do not take from this that I think all the unemployed are good for is street cleaning

john b

Chris - the figure seems to be 13.9% according to p2 of the PDF - what am I misreading?


John B - you're looking at the % of all households with dependent children which are workless.
The % of all children living in workless households is slightly higher, as workless families are slightly bigger than average.
I'm referring to table 3(ii). The 15.6% reported for Q2 2006 is consistent with the figures Jim Murphy gave in the Hansard I cited.

john b

cheers, knew I was missing something...


A big expansion in cheap or free at the point of use childcare would help - it would give some people the chance to go out to work when at the moment it is impossible because current provision doesn't cover e.g. shift work, and it would also create new jobs for people.

Worth looking as well at Community Links' work on the informal economy, which has some good ideas about how to get people who are currently working cash in hand etc. into the formal economy.

There are already theoretically all sorts of coercive powers to get people off benefit and into work - contrary to dim right-wing theology this is not in the main a problem of there being a lack of demand for work.

One other problem is that employers don't want to hire people who have e.g. time-consuming caring responsibilities or mental health problems, and many only do so if given a handout by the government. Higher levels of employment might also push wages up, which employers don't want either.

Mark Wadsworth

1. Have a Citizen's Income-style welfare scheme to replace existing means tested benefits and tax credits. Perfectly affordable. See www.citizensincome.org for up to date booklet.

2. As Luis says, state-funded prettification jobs is a good way forward, we could fund this easily by reducing Housing & Council Tax benefit, and, as Don P says, we need more affordable childcare, so some of these jobs would be in nurseries, breakfast and after school clubs and so on.

Luis Enrique

don panski - you're right of course, child care has got to play a big role.

This makes me think, again, of what the optimal number of non-working families is - if free childcare and all other measures were to be introduced, and children in non-working families fell to 3%, would studies such as quoted by Chris then find that children were now being made worse off by having working parents and being stuck in (state subsidised) childcare facilities?

It could be that the measures needed to reduce workless families may end up making children worse off even if their parents are now working. I wonder how that idea could be tested?

Mark Wadsworth

Luis, it is broadly accepted that very small children are better off with mum, but up to what age?

I have had four kids and they all went to nursery full-time-ish from the age of one-and-a-half or two while mum and dad worked/went to Uni and they certainly benefitted from it. They liked going. OTOH, the two youngest think their current childminder (for when nursery and school are shut) is boring and have made this perfectly clear.

Luis Enrique

Mark - I'm sure you're right in general, but what about at the margin? Are there some currently non-working families where the children would actually be worse off if measures to encourage work were implemented and these families became working families?

Mark Wadsworth

Luis, I dunno, I doubt there'd be many, plus nobody says that both parents of young children should work, leaves us with problem of single parents, but, er, can't they sort of get married or something? Preferably before having kids?

Rob Spear

Hang them, of course. It is the only sure way to get the numbers down, and will rid the world of a lot of human misery.

David Duff

Try cutting welfare payments! You will be amazed at how efficacious it will prove. And not only will it not cost a penny, it will save zillions of pounds!

(Some one give Mr. Paskini a glass of water, I think he just fainted!)

Mark Wadsworth

David D, that's a knee jerk thing, the key is to reduce marginal benefit withdrawal rates and even up treatment between 'lone' parents and married/cohabiting couples.

Laban Tall

"the key is to reduce marginal benefit withdrawal rates and even up treatment between 'lone' parents and married/cohabiting couples"

Try doing that without cutting benefits - unless of course you something like Citizens Income - but single parents will still be worse off.

Any needs-based system wil discriminate in favour of the feckless and reckless as against the prudent and responsible. It will also (and rightly IMHO) discriminate in favour of the unfortunate.

How to resolve this ? Discriminate between the deserving and undeserving. I just can't see the Guardianistas doing this, so looks like we'll be carrying on just as we are.

(PS - notice that those on benefits have larger families - and they wonder why the underclass has grown)

Mark Wadsworth

Laban, I've done the figures, a CI scheme need not be particularly dramatic in terms of changing redistribution patterns (relative to what we have now), see www.citizensincome.org.


Those larger families on benefits - do we know if muslims make up a significant percentage?

Laban Tall

I have no information on the ethnicity of benefit claimants, but the study by Richard Berthoud in the 2001 ONS Population Trends 104 estimates the following total fertility (live births/female by age 45)

white 1.8
Afro-Caribbean 1.8
Indian 2.3
Pakistani 4.0
Bangladeshi 4.7

As Berthoud says "If the overall trend in Britain is from ‘old fashioned family values’ towards ‘modern individualism’, it can be argued that of the principal minority
groups, South Asians, and especially Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, are behind the trend, with very high rates of marriage and of fertility, while Caribbeans are ahead of the trend, with high and rising rates of single parenthood."

The evidence of shopping at Lidl tells me that one may not necessarily need to invoke Muslims when accounting for benefit babies.


"Luis, it is broadly accepted that very small children are better off with mum"

Care to provide some evidence for that broad acceptance? I don't say I disagree necessarily, I just think assumptions without evidence can really lead you in drastically wrong directions.

PS "better off with mum" could presumably also mean "better of with dad"?

Matt Munro

There is a mountain of evidence that children from single parent families, on average have poorer educational oucomes, poorer employment outcomes, are more likely to be physically and mentally ill, more likely to be homeless, more likely to be involved in crime, more likely to have addiction issues and more likely to become single parents themselves. This evidence is not new or (outside the liberal left) controversial.
The earliest research I'm aware of is Bolby's Maternal Deprivation Hypothesis. Admittedly that looked at children in care rather than single parents, but it still shows that the absence of a family has a negative effect on children. Subsequent research has consistently supported the view that, all other things being equal, single parenthood is bad for children. The evidence is everywhere (look up some stats for the prison population and see how many prisoners are from broken homes).

"Better off with dad" depends on the kids - girls do better with mothers, boys with fathers - which is why girls seem to cope better with family breakup, in 90 odd percent of cases they are left with the same sex parent, whereas boys lose their role model.

I would turn the question round ask where is the evidence that children from broken homes do as well as those from 2 parent families - leaving aside the anecdotal "My auntie Sue was a single parent and both here kids went to Oxford and became rocket scientists" - the fact is there isn't any.

Mark Wadsworth

Katherine, don't get me wrong, I am not saying that it is in any way scientifically proven (apart from breat feeding in first few weeks).

I am just saying, as a matter of fact, that most people believe it to be true*. Yes, I agree, once children are weaned, there is no reason why they should not be at home with Dad.

*as indeed do I, the real question is, up to what age - 6 months, two years? - not for me or anybody else to say is it, that's up to each child's parents, so who cares?

Laban Tall

Re families on benefits and lurkers request : there's a pdf of Jobseekers Allowance claimants by constituency which gives food for thought.


For males :

Brum Ladywood 24%
Hodge Hill 15%
Small Heath 17%
Liverpool Riverside 15.9
Manchester Central 14.1

Kevin Carson

It just occurred to me what a remarkable assumption is implicit in the equation of "jobless" to "workless." At one time, at least in the U.S., the vast majority of the population were self-employed. And as quitrents in your country became nominal in late medieval times, I suspect the peasantry moved toward a similar majority--before Enclosures and all the other expropriations put a stop to it.

But now things have "progressed" to the point that anyone not egaged in wage labor for someone who owns the means of production is viewed with the same horror the Tudors had toward "masterless men."

Reminds me of the Georgist Albert Nock's observation that, in a country where a majority of arable land was vacant and idle, people still thought of work as something one was "given" rather than something one did.

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