British households out of work reach their highest level in 12 years amid the jobs crisis

The number of British households where no adult has ever worked has reached a 12-year high, underscoring a deepening employment crisis that experts warn is holding back British economic growth.

In the first quarter of this year there were 269,000 non-student households where no adult had ever had a job, the highest figure since spring 2012, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This represents an increase of 12% compared to the same period last year.

Between January and March, 4.3 million 16 to 64-year-olds lived in households where no adult worked, almost 300,000 more than at the end of last year and the highest number in seven years.

This alarming trend is part of a wider unemployment crisis that threatens to cripple British growth as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak prepares for the general election in July. Nationally, 9.4 million working-age adults were economically inactive at the beginning of the year, neither employed nor looking for work. This figure has increased by 832,000 compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conservative MP and former business minister, described the high level of economic inactivity as a “major problem” for the country. He emphasized that non-working individuals do not contribute to GDP growth, reducing the state's capacity to finance tax cuts or public services. This situation, he argued, is fueling calls for more migration to fill the labor shortage.

Tony Wilson, director of the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), suggested that the rise in the number of unemployed households is likely to be driven by increased unemployment among young people. Recent data shows that the number of 16 to 24-year-olds not in education, employment or training (NEETs) reached a nine-year high of 900,000 at the start of this year, an increase of 18% on pre-EU levels pandemic.

Wilson warned that prolonged periods without work and education during childhood can cause lasting damage, both for the individuals affected and for society and the economy. He highlighted that young people who remain out of the workforce for long periods of time are more likely to suffer from poor health, lower incomes and disadvantage their own children.

In response to the crisis, Prime Minister Sunak has promised to introduce National Service for 18-year-olds. However, Wilson criticized the plan, arguing that it would drain money from existing programs designed to help economically inactive individuals reenter the workforce. The proposed plan, estimated to cost £2.5 billion, would be funded mainly by the UK's Shared Prosperity Fund, which supports community organisations.

As the jobs crisis deepens, tackling the root causes of economic inactivity and providing targeted support to young people and other vulnerable groups will be crucial to supporting Britain's economic growth and social well-being.

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