Will workless households feel the benefit?

The government wants to 'make work pay'. Benefit reforms aim to ensure those who take jobs are better off than the unemployed. Is this the end of the 'workless home'?

April may bring a warmer breeze to our streets – but it's unleashed a cold wind on the nation's benefit system that supports those without work.

This month the government is introducing the biggest changes to welfare since the 1940's, guided by Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

Back in November, speaking in the House of Commons, he called the level of worklessness in the country a 'sin' and talked of our dependency on benefit as a 'national crisis'.

In response, he has announced that changes to welfare provision will lift 500,000 adults and 350,000 children out of poverty by 2017 and reduce the number of workless households by 300,000.

And it is workless households that are of particular concern to the minister: 'We cannot, as a society, have nearly one in five households completely without work through a time when we have had the longest and greatest period of (economic) growth,' he said.

In the UK, around 1.9 million children – or 17% of all young people – live in workless households. The Office for National Statistics defines them as 'homes that include at least one person of working age, where nobody aged 16 or over is in employment.'

The UK has a higher proportion of its children living in such circumstances than any other EU country – almost twice as high as in France and Germany.

And the disadvantages for those living in such homes are not just financial. The Royal College of Psychiatrists are pressing the government to pay attention to mental health. They've found that children from the poorest households are three times more likely to suffer from mental health issues than children from the richest households.

And with no one in the home modelling 'a working life' it's harder for these young people to prepare for it themselves.

Just the job
To change work patterns, the government is prepared to use both the stick and the carrot.

They'll withdraw support from those not genuinely seeking work; but give cash incentives to any taking part-time jobs, without harm to their benefits.

Employment minister Chris Grayling says the reforms 'will make work pay and bring an end to the cycle of welfare dependency.'

However, Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, sees problems ahead as unemployment increases. 'Ministers want us to think that anyone on benefits is a work-shy scrounger but, however diligently people search for work, they can't get jobs that simply aren't there.'

You Decide

  1. 'Work is good for you.' Do you agree?
  2. 'The government shouldn't support people in the way it does. Families should help out more.' What's your opinion?


  1. Write a letter to an employer of your choice, saying why they should employ you.
  2. Research the economic sticks and carrots being used by the government to get people back to work. Have they got the balance right?

Some People Say...

“No one should help the work-shy.”

What do you think?

Q & A

So how many people live entirely on benefits?
Nationally, more than 7.2 million adults and children. Ministers describe the figures as 'shocking'.
What's been the problem with part-time jobs?
In the past, for 1.1 million households in the UK, a person would lose money by taking a part-time job.
How could that be?
If a person worked for ten hours a week, they might earn £90 yet lose more than 70% of their benefits, which could be £200 per week. It just wasn't worth it, so they didn't bother. But under this new scheme, it will be worth it. Everyone will be rewarded for working.
Any other advantages in the new system?
With over 50 different benefits people could claim for, the old system was a nightmare to operate. These will now be replaced by one payment called the Universal Credit. Simpler at least.


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