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13 Oct, 2010 07:27

Better off on benefits: state blamed for UK’s lazy unemployment cycle

Nearly one in eight British households has no breadwinner. The new figures, from the Centre for Policy Studies, rank the UK top of the household jobless table, compared to other major EU countries.

“Long-term unemployment is growing as a proportion of total unemployment, but a bigger problem is perhaps hidden from the official unemployment statistics, and that is the proportion of workless households in Britain,” said Professor Philip Booth of the Institute of Economic Affairs. “One sixth of all children, for example, grew up in workless households, which is the highest figure in Europe by some measure.”

Part of the blame is being put on a welfare system that means the unemployed can be better off on benefits.

Sandra Hague, 39, has never had a job. She had her first child at 16, and went on to have three more. None of the fathers are around. Sandra gets the equivalent of more than US$ 20,000 dollars a year in benefits, but she said it is barely enough to stay afloat.

“I am not doing anything, I am just existing,” she said. “Because I cannot go anywhere, I cannot do anything with the kids because I have never got any money.”

Sandra also gets incapacity benefit because of a problem with her legs. She admits that many people less able than her do go out to work but the country’s generous benefits system means it is often more lucrative to stay at home than to get a job. Critics of that system also say the dependency culture is passed from one generation to the next.

Sandra is a grandmother, with the state paying for her granddaughter’s nursery care while her daughter goes to college. She talks of the moment she found out her daughter was pregnant at 17.

”Devastated. Devastated. Because she had just got a place in college, and then she turned around and said she was pregnant. My children keep asking me, what am I going to do when I am older but I am already old, I think.”

It is a cycle that the cash-strapped coalition government is trying hard to break as it tries to save money. That is a tricky balancing act between protecting the vulnerable, and not allowing people to take advantage of the system.

“We change it with the mixture of carrot and stick,” said Conservative party MP, Dominic Raab. “The conditionality is that if you do not accept a reasonable job offer it has got to be the case that you cannot go on claiming benefits and have every other tax payer picking up the bill.”

The government is taking steps to address the problem of long-term unemployed by restricting the amount of benefits that any one family can claim, and carrying out more rigorous tests and checks on people who want incapacity allowance. However, many of the people those reforms are aimed at have never worked, and in a crisis hit economic climate, there are few jobs available.