Myth: “Thousands of children are growing up in families where their parents and grandparents have never worked.”

kamsandhu —  May 8, 2013 — Leave a comment

by Kam Sandhu – @KamBass

The above comment was made in 2008 by Professor Dame Carol Black, expert adviser to the Department of Health on the welfare of working people. In 2009, Iain Duncan Smith said that there were communities in Britain where “three generations of the same family have [often] never worked”. Since then, we have become even more normalised to similar comments and phrases such as ‘cultures of worklessness’, ‘generations of worklessness’ and ‘culture of entitlement’ and so on.

What politicians are saying here is that unemployment is in part, a DIRECT result of an attitude passed from parent to child. It suggests that rising unemployment is not to do with the economy or a lack of jobs, but, according to a report published late last year, is a result of ‘values and behaviours….In simple terms, they imply people prefer a life on welfare benefits to working for a living.’


Photo: The Guardian

Unsurprisingly, these ideas surface at time when the government wants to cut benefits or bring in controversial new reforms. These ideas enforce ‘lazy’ characteristics of those supposedly ‘worse off’, and suggest they are actually living in great comfort. Therefore, we should want to remove the help and ‘privileges’ we give these ‘scroungers’.

Strange, that politicians can put across this idea when we are also well aware that many people are being forced into redundancy or are laid off after years of employment and tax-paying, because the unstable economy is trying to recover from the mistakes of banks. Scroungers.

But what proof is there that we now have parents raising pre-determined unemployed citizens in our society? Well, unfortunately for some politicians, none.

A report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation released in December, served to quash any of these stereotypes when they proved that intergenerational unemployment was largely rare in two generations, never mind three:

‘Social statistics suggest that the proportion of workless households with two generations who have never worked is very small – approximately half of one per cent of workless households. Despite dogged searching in localities with high rates of worklessness across decades we were unable to locate any families in which there were three generations in which no-one had ever worked.’


  (Click on image to see a larger version)

The report revealed that most children in workless households wanted to avoid the same fate of poverty and difficulty. They also saw the benefits of employment in terms of financial betterment, sociability, opportunities and well-being. Indeed, ‘most were very active in seeking work’.

Also, the parents interviewed all wanted their children to have a better life than they did, and actively helped them get into work, the value of which is still held high, even in deprived areas:

These parents were unanimous in not wanting their children to end up in the same situation. Parents made efforts to help their children, for instance by accompanying them to job interviews or ensuring that they had newspaper rounds when they were younger so as to learn about earning money.’

           What else the report told us.

The reasons for unemployment were not easy to generalise. Many different issues and problems stood in the way of enabling some households to find work, including ‘physical and mental ill health’, ‘problematic drug and alcohol use’, ‘poor schooling and educational underachievement’ and ‘family and housing instability’. Add to this, the stigmas of long-term unemployment, and we can see that this is far from black and white.

Many in the middle generation appeared to have become resigned to their long-term worklessness, given their length of time out of the labour market, the multiple problems they faced and their assessment of the chances of getting a job locally.’

Also, the report pressed the fact that those out of work were often living in poverty. They were not handed an easy life or living ‘comfortably’.

The report concluded:

‘The research was unable to uncover evidence of a culture of worklessness among families. The key conclusion, therefore, is that politicians and policy-makers need to abandon theories – and policies flowing from them – that see worklessness as primarily the outcome of a culture of worklessness, held in families and passed down the generations. If these cultures cannot be found in the extreme cases studied here, they are unlikely to explain more general patterns of worklessness in the UK.’

We have a feeling that politicians will not abandon their well-used and proven tactics to brandish the un-working and those on benefits as self-perpetuating free-loaders. It helps them to push harsh cuts and reforms with less public disapproval.

However, we can keep ourselves better informed about the truth (with the help of organisations like the JRF) and heighten our awareness of the motives of government, in order not to fall for this sort of fabricated negative generalisation of those on welfare, and instead push politicians to address the real causes of unemployment in the UK.


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