How many people have never worked in their lives?

Published: 11th Feb 2013

"NEARLY four million people of working age in Britain have never had a proper job, shock figures reveal. [...] More than a third of those who have never earned a living are aged between 18 and 24 — with a new generation struggling in an age of economic gloom."

The Sun, February 10 2013

"The huge number of able-bodied adults who have never been on a payroll costs the taxpayer billions of pounds a year, while the country's social security system is frequently criticised for making jobless people better off than those who work for a living."

The Express, February 11 2013

"Figures show the scale of the problem facing (sic) British welfare system, which has been criticised for allowing jobless people to be better off than those in work."

The Daily Mail, February 10, 2013

'Lazy Britain', the papers roared, as it was revealed that 4 million Britons never punched a clock in their life.

But where are these figures from exactly? What period of time do they refer to? And how many of these people might be described as disabled, students, or housewives?

The issue was first raised on January 31 this year when Margaret Curran, MP for Glasgow East, asked Nick Hurd, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, for information on the number of people who don't have any experience of full or part-time work, by age group and administrative location.

The data isn't publicly available at the moment. As happens in these cases, the Minister asked the Office for National Statistics (ONS)The ONS researchers then gathered data from their Labour Market Statistics in tables which show the number of people who have never had a paid job or a place on a scheme according to survey responses from the period October 2011 to September 2012.

We don't have reliable data for every local authority so the ONS has issued a caveat about the reliability of this data.

The data does indeed show that between October 2011 and September 2012, 3.9 million people had never worked in their lives. Unsurprisingly, more than two thirds of them - 2.7 million - are under 25s.

Number of people in the UK who have never worked by age group, Oct 2011 to Sept 2012 | Create infographics

We asked the ONS how many of them are students, disabled, carers and home makers. (Download the data).

We found that, as expected, 1.9 million people who have never worked are students. As illustrated in the graph below, a great majority of the people who have never worked in their lives are either engaged in full-time education, have a disability or are looking after their family or home. That leaves out 1 million people who are unemployed, retired or 'other'.

Number of people in the UK who have never worked by reason for not working in the current period | Infographics

It's therefore overstating the case to say that millions are "languishing on benefits", as the Daily Mail put it, given that many have reasons to stay out of work, and not all of them are "able-bodied adults" as the Express claimed in its article. Leaving aside students, those that have never worked due to a disalibility or illness, and homemakers, the ONS has found that 1,086,000 people have never been in employment.  

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Flickr image courtesy of inoneear


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