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Workless households down by 153,000 to 3.7 million

Released: 29 August 2012 Download PDF

In April to June 2012 there were 3.7 million UK households with at least one member aged 16 to 64 where no-one was currently working, new figures from ONS show. This represented 17.9 per cent of households and was a fall of 0.8 percentage points, or 153,000 households, on a year earlier, the second consecutive fall. In all, 1.8 million children lived in these households, as did 5.0 million people aged 16-64.

Sickness, both long-term and temporary, was the main reason given for not working by those people aged 16 to 64 living in workless households, accounting for 1.45 million, or around three in every ten workless people. The second most common reason given was being unemployed, accounting for 1.03 million, or around one in five. The next three most common reasons were looking after the family, retirement and study.

Some of the workless people aged 16 to 64 give study or retirement as their reason for not working. If fully retired and student households are removed, the number of households in the UK that are workless is 2.92 million.

As well as a fall in workless households there was also a fall of 36,000 in working households – those with at least one person aged 16 to 64 where all adult members are in work. In April to June 2012 there were 10.9 million such households, representing 53.0 per cent of all households. There was a rise of 246,000 in mixed households – those that contain some people in work and some who are not. The number of mixed households stood at 5.97 million, or 29.1 per cent of the total.

Since 1996, the earliest point a consistent series is available, the lowest estimate for both the number and percentage of workless households was in 2006, two years before the economic downturn hit the UK in 2008. The number of workless households was 233,000 lower than in 2012, at 3.4 million, and the percentage was 0.6 percentage points lower than in 2012, at 17.3 per cent.

Over the past 15 years there has been a fall in the percentage of lone parent households with dependent children that are workless from 51.9 per cent in 1996 to 37.0 per cent in 2012. The first part of this fall happened between 1996 and 2006, the proportion then remained flat for a few years but fell by 2.2 percentage points between 2011 and 2012. Comparing lone parents and couple households, the latter have a much lower chance of being a workless household. In 2012 around 4.9 per cent of couple households with dependent children were workless, much lower than the 37.0 per cent for lone parent households, reflecting the ability for couple households to share childcare responsibilities.

Another important factor is the age of the youngest child in the family, as this has an impact on the ability of parents to go out to work. As children get older, it becomes easier for those responsible for looking after them to go out to work. The impact is much greater for lone parents, as they are generally the sole carer for the child. In 2012 around 59.0 per cent of lone parent households with their youngest child aged 0 to 4 were workless. However, when the youngest child was aged between 5 and 10, the percentage of lone parent workless households was 35.0 per cent.

A podcast giving more background on this analysis in available on the ONS Youtube channel at

Background notes

  1. There is a statistical bulletin at and a summary report at
  2. On 6 September 2012 ONS will publish sub-regional analysis of workless households for the calendar year of 2011.
  3. The analysis is based on households where there is at least one household member aged between 16 and 64. There are 20.5 million such households in the UK. Data come from the Labour Force Survey.
  4. A working household is one that contains at least one person aged 16 to 64, where all individuals aged 16 and over are in employment. A mixed household is one that contains at least one person aged 16 to 64, where at least one person aged 16 and over is in employment and at least one other is either unemployed or inactive. A workless household is one that contains at least one person aged 16 to 64, where no-one aged 16 or over is in employment.
  5. People not working are classified as either ‘unemployed’ (which requires them to be available for, and actively seeking, work) or ‘economically inactive’ if they do not meet the criteria for unemployment. Major reasons for working-age people to be inactive include looking after family or home, being a student or being long-term sick or disabled.
  6. The figures on reasons for not working apply to those in workless households. Some people who are not in work live in mixed households, and are not included in these figures.
  7. Follow us on and on the ONS Youtube channel at
  8. Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available from the media relations office.
  9. National Statistics are produced to high professional standards set out in the Code of Practice for Official Statistics. They undergo regular quality assurance reviews to ensure that they meet customer needs. They are produced free from any political interference. © Crown copyright 2012.


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