Key points

  • Around 1.9 million children live in workless households.  This is one in six of all children.  Both the number and the proportion are similar to a decade ago.
  • Two-thirds of all children in workless households are in lone parent households.
  • Half of all children of lone parents live in households that are workless.  This compares to just one in fourteen for children of couples.
  • At more than a quarter of all children, the proportion of children who are in workless households in inner London is much higher than in any other region of the United Kingdom.
  • The United Kingdom has a higher proportion of its children living in workless households than any other European Union country except Ireland.
  • The United Kingdom is one of the few European Union countries where the proportion of children who are in workless households is much higher than the proportion of working-age people who are in workless households.

Why this indicator was originally chosen

Children’s economic circumstances are essentially determined by the economic status of the adults in their household.  Over the last two decades, a split has opened up between ‘work rich’ and ‘work poor’ households, with a large number of children in households where none of the adults have paid work.

Definitions and data sources

The first graph shows the number of children living in households in which none of the working-age adults is in paid work.  The data is separated by household type, namely couple households, lone parent households and other (i.e. more complex) households.

The second graph shows the same data as the first graph but as a proportion of all children.

The third graph shows how the proportion of children living in households in which none of the working-age adults is in paid work varies by household type.  To improve its statistical reliability, the data is the average for the latest three years.

The fourth graph shows how the proportion of children living in households in which none of the working-age adults are in paid work varies by region.  To improve its statistical reliability, the data is the average for the latest three years.

The data source for the first four graphs is the Labour Force Survey (LFS) and the data relates to the United Kingdom.  The data for each year is the average for the 2nd and 4th quarters, analysis by household type not being available for the 1st and 3rd quarters.  In line with ONS methods, children comprise all those under the age of 16 (i.e. not including people aged 16 to 18 in full-time education).

The fifth graph shows the proportion of children aged 0-17 in each EU country who live in workless households.  For comparison purposes, the equivalent data for 18-59 year-olds is also shown (noting that this data excludes students aged 18 -24 who live in households composed solely of students of the same age class).

The data source for the fifth graph is the Eurostat indicators website, which in turn draws its data from the Labour Force Surveys in each country.  Note that there is no data available for Sweden.

Overall adequacy of the indicator: high.  The LFS  is a large, well-established, quarterly government survey, designed to be representative of the population as a whole.

External links

Relevant 2007 Public Service Agreements

Overall aim:  Halve the number of children in poverty by 2010-11, on the way to eradicating child poverty by 2020.

Lead department

HM Treasury.

Official national targets

Reduce by a half the number of children living in relative low-income by 2010/11.

Other indicators of progress

Number of children in absolute low-income households.

Number of children in relative low-income households and in material deprivation.

Previous 2004 targets

Halve the number of children in relative low-income households between 1998/99 and 2010/11, on the way to eradicating child poverty by 2020, including:

  • reducing the proportion of children in workless households by 5% between spring 2005 and spring 2008; and
  • increasing the proportion of parents with care on Income Support and income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance who receive maintenance for their children by 65% by March 2008.

As a contribution to reducing the proportion of children living in households where no-one is working by 2008:

  • increase the stock of Ofsted-registered childcare by 10%;
  • increase the take-up of formal childcare by lower income working families by 50%; and
  • introduce by April 2005, a successful light-touch childcare approval scheme.

The numbers

Graphs 1 and 2

Year Millions Percentage of all children
In couple households In lone parent households In other households In couple households In lone parent household In other households
1996 880K 1,370K 40K 7.5% 11.6% 0.4%
1997 790K 1,390K 50K 6.6% 11.6% 0.4%
1998 710K 1,450K 40K 5.9% 12.1% 0.3%
1999 660K 1,420K 50K 5.5% 11.8% 0.4%
2000 630K 1,310K 30K 5.3% 10.9% 0.3%
2001 590K 1,320K 40K 5.0% 11.2% 0.3%
2002 600K 1,340K 30K 5.1% 11.4% 0.3%
2003 530K 1,320K 40K 4.5% 11.3% 0.3%
2004 510K 1,250K 50K 4.4% 10.8% 0.4%
2005 540K 1,260K 40K 4.7% 11.0% 0.4%
2006550K 1,240K 40K 4.8% 10.8% 0.3%
2007520K 1,250K 30K 4.6% 11.1% 0.3%
2008580K 1,190K 40K 5.0% 10.3% 0.3%
2009630K 1,240K 40K 5.5% 10.7% 0.3%
2010590K 1,250K 30K 5.1% 10.8% 0.2%

Graph 3

In couples households7%
In lone parent households48%

Graph 4

East 12%
East Midlands 14%
inner London28%
outer London19%
North East 19%
North West 19%
Northern Ireland 15%
Scotland 15%
South East 11%
South West 12%
Wales 19%
West Midlands 19%
Yorkshire and The Humber 18%

Graph 5

Figures are as shown in the graph.