'Double' trouble? Has David Cameron confused his workless household statistics?

26 January 2012

David Cameron: "The real shame is there are so many millions of children who live in households where nobody works and indeed that number doubled under the last government."

Ed Miliband: "The number of children living in workless households fell by 372,000 between April — June 1997 and April June 2010."

Prime Minister's Questions, 25 January 2012

Prime Minister's Questions frequently throws up lively debate over interpretations of facts and figures, often resulting in questions over the misrepresentation of statistics.

Yesterday's exchange in the Commons between David Cameron and Ed Miliband was a case in point. In fact, with the Labour Leader so put out by the Prime Minister's responses to his questions that he released a list of those which he deemed to be inaccurate.

One statement which Mr Miliband believed to be incorrect was Mr Cameron's claim that "there are so many millions of children who live in households where nobody works and indeed that number doubled under the last government."

Mr Miliband stated that "the number of children living in workless households fell by 372,000 between April — June 1997 and April June 2010."

So who was right?


The issue of workless households is complicated at the best of times, and often lends itself to multiple interpretations.

The Prime Minister's assertion was worded in such a way that would indicate that that the figure which 'doubled' under Labour was the number of children living in a household in which nobody worked, rather than the number of workless households.

It was under this caveat that Full Fact conducted its first line of research.

Children in workless households

To assess Mr Cameron's comments we must study the figures from May 1997 to May 2010.

The relevant figures are provided by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in its Labour Force Surveys. These figures measure year-on-year figures comparing the quarter from April-June.

The ONS states that "a workless household is a household that includes at least one person aged 16 to 64 where noone aged 16 or over is in employment."

Figures for 1997 show that there were 2,235,000 children living in workless households. In 2010 this figure stood at 1,863,000. This shows that 372,000 fewer children lived in a workless household by the end of Labour's thirteen years in government, seemingly supporting Mr Miliband's interpretation of the data.

Source: ONS

Workless households

If we instead look at the number of workless households, irrespective of how many children were contained therein.

ONS statistics show that this figure rose from 3,705,000 to 3,915,000 under Labour's tenure.

So while this indicator was at least going in the same direction as the Prime Minister claimed, it still fails to show the 'doubling' he suggested.

Source: ONS

Households where noone has ever worked

However Number 10 has now confirmed to Full Fact that the figures to which Mr Cameron was intending to refer are those which measure the number of households where nobody has ever worked.

The ONS states:

"A household is defined as having never worked if all members aged 16 years or more are currently not in employment and state that they have never had paid work (apart from casual or holiday work, or the job that they are waiting to begin)."

These figures show an increase from 184,000 to 352,000 between 1997 and 2010 — which is relatively close to a 'doubling' under Labour.

Source: ONS

Therefore it appears that David Cameron has confused his figures when formulating this claim. While the Prime Minister's claim refers specifically to children in any form of workless household, the data to which we have been directed by his press team instead looks at total households where nobody has ever worked.

Using the latter statistics would also mean that the Prime Minister's comment that 'millions of children' live in these households is inaccurate.

According to the ONS, the number of children living in households where nobody has ever worked currently stands at 301,000. Incidentally, this figure increased from 178,000 to 266,000 under Labour, an increase of around 70 per cent.


David Cameron's claims on workless households do not seem to accurately reflect the data he apparently intended to reference. While there is data that shows a doubling of households where nobody has ever worked under the previous Government, this wasn't clearly referenced in his claim, and his meaning could easily have been misinterpreted by MPs.

The use of this statistic also meant that the 'millions of children' statement should perhaps have read 'hundreds of thousands of children.'

Ed Miliband was on this occasion correct to highlight Mr Cameron's inaccuracies and Section 1(c) of the Ministerial Code indicates that Mr Cameron may be called upon by the House to clarify his comments:

"It is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister"

Full Fact has asked Number 10 to correct the record in Hansard.

It must be noted that Ed Miliband's previous errors have not required an official correction because the Leader of the Opposition does not fall under the net of the Ministerial Code.

For more on yesterday's PMQs see the latest Full Fact blog.

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