By Mark Wallace
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The latest ONS report on employment looks at the number of working and workless households. It's an interesting way of looking beyond the headline figures to good and bad news that may lie beneath the surface.
Assessing household worklessness helps us to see the degree to which unemployment is concentrated or diffused. It's a bad thing for anyone who wants a job to be unable to find one, but economically and socially speaking the problem is at least mitigated if other members of their household are in work. By the same token, households who are entirely without work obviously represent greater suffering than a simple headcount of the population will illustrate.
There is good news in the numbers. 17.1% of households with at least one person of working age were workless – still too high, but down on last year and the lowest rate since comparable records began in 1996.
The number of people of working age in entirely workless households fell below 5 million for the first time since 2008.
There are also signs that inroads are being made into long-term and youth unemployment. It is shocking that there are 224,000 households (excluding student houses) in which no-one has ever worked, but that is a fall of 41,000 on the year. Whether those coming into work for the first time are new members of the workforce, ie young people, or long-term unemployed, it is undoubtedly a sizeable move in the right direction.
So things are getting better but, as ever, we still have far too many people out of work.
Interestingly, the figures offer some insights into policy areas that might alleviate the problem. Single parent households are most likely to find themselves workless. Addressing childcare costs, for example, would not just help the broader sweep of families, it would help those most at risk of being stuck with no opportunity to earn.