THE idea that worklessness is passed from generation to generation in some families has been challenged in a report published today in collaboration with Scots researchers.
The report sought to discover whether joblessness and dependence on benefits becomes a way of life among grandparents, parents and children, and whether a "culture of worklessness" – which current benefit reforms are intended to address – could lead several generations of the same family to consider unemployment the norm.
Researchers at Glasgow University and Teesside University in Middlesbrough interviewed 20 families, including nine in Glasgow, but were unable to find families with three generations in which no-one had ever worked.
They found that workless parents were keen for their children to do better than they had, and actively tried to help them find jobs. The working-age children of these families remained strongly committed to conventional values about work as part of a normal transition to adulthood. They were keen to avoid the poverty, worklessness and other problems experienced by their parents.
Pamela Fraser, 21, one of 20 people interviewed for the Glasgow part of the study, had been out of work for two years at the time of the research. The report said she longed for a job and had "always wanted to be able to say to somebody, 'I work here', 'I'm going to my work'."
Andy Furlong, professor of social inclusion and education at Glasgow University, said: "Younger and older interviewees described their daily struggle. Socialising is severely restricted and the absence of holidays, even day trips, is emblematic of lives lived in poverty.
"Because of multiple problems faced, many in the middle generation are resigned to their long-term worklessness but, as parents, they are unanimous in wanting their children to be able to get work."
The report – Cultures of Worklessness – passed down the generations? – is published today by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
It also included interviews with 27 people from 11 families in Middlesbrough.
Professor Rob MacDonald, of Teesside University, said: "Even two generations of complete worklessness in the same family is a very rare phenomenon. We found that families experiencing long-term unemployment preferred to be in jobs rather than on benefits."
He added: "Exposing the myth of the 'welfare scrounger' is the first step towards better- informed debate and policy."
Professor Tracy Shildrick, also of Teesside University, said: "There was no evidence of a culture of worklessness; no evidence people didn't want to work and were happy to be dependent on welfare. In fact, workless parents were keen that their children do better than they had and actively helped them to find jobs.
"Better-paid and more lasting jobs – and a welfare system that promises social security not greater insecurity – would have done much to improve our interviewees' lives."
Patrick Richards, 49, from Middlesbrough, took part in the research. He had had jobs but lost them because of problems with his health. He said that employment "gives your whole day some sort of order. It's like a regimental thing - whereas if you are just sat around it can be frustrating and awful, really."
The study calls on policy makers to abandon reforms to the benefit system designed to crack a perceived "culture of worklessness" and instead concentrate on policies that provide long-term, secure jobs with good pay and benefits to help people move away from poverty.