Monthly Archives: December 2012

New event: Are ‘cultures of worklessness’ passed down the generations?


Thursday 24th January 2013

10:00 – 14:00

Joachim Room, College of St. Hild & St. Bede, Durham University

Are there really families where 3 generations have never worked? This idea appeals to many, including politicians and policy-makers, as an explanation of entrenched worklessness in the UK. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation recently published a report examining the concept of ‘intergenerational cultures of worklessness. The research, carried out in Middlesbrough and Glasgow by researchers from Teesside University and Glasgow University found ‘no evidence of ‘a culture of worklessness’ – values, attitudes and behaviours discouraging employment and encouraging welfare dependency – in the families taking part in the research’

The report also suggests that, ‘policy-makers and politicians need to abandon theories – and resulting policies – that see worklessness as primarily the outcome of a culture of worklessness, held in families and passed down the generations.’

This event will be led by Professor Tracy Shildrick and Professor Robert Macdonald of Teesside University, two of the authors of the report. The event is the first time they have presented the findings of the report and it is being co-hosted by the Institute for Local Governance and the Social Futures Institute at Teesside University. We expect interest to be high for this event and places are limited. If you have any questions about the event, please contact a member of the ILG team on (0191) 334 9290 or e-mail Stephen Crossley at

If you would like to book a place at this free event, please fill in the online registration form at:



Intergenerational cultures of worklessness

A JRF report exploring the idea of ‘cultures of worklessness’ and whether they are passed down the generations was published today and it has already received a lot of press coverage and comment. The report was produced by researchers from Teesside and Glasgow Universities and involved fieldwork in some of the most deprived areas of Middlesbrough and Glasgow. The research, which found no evidence of ‘3 generations of worklessness’ within the same family, suggests that:

Policy-makers and politicians need to abandon theories – and resulting policies – that see worklessness as primarily the outcome of a culture of worklessness, held in families and passed down the generations

I won’t say too much more about the content of the report because it makes sense to encourage people to read it themselves.

I do, however, want to highlight two things which I think are important about the report: the strength of the arguement within in and the importance of it.

The researchers are clear that they made every effort to find families that exhibited a ‘culture of worklessness’ and were very conscious that people would claim that they had not looked hard enough. Indeed, some of the comments on newsapaper websites that have covered the report would suggest that JRF might have been better off asking members of the public to identify such families. Drawing on work by Declan Gaffney (who has published a very interesting blog on the ‘invention of worklessness’ ), the report highlights ONS stats which suggest that approximately only 0.5% of workless households ‘could be described as having members across generations who have never worked’, as can be  seen from the infographic below.


In terms of the field work, no interviewees were able to direct the researchers to families that fitted the criteria for 3 generations of worklessnesss and, despite talking to and meeting over 30 practitioners working in the local areas:

none was able to direct us to potential recruits for the study … when pushed to identify families where ‘three generations had never worked’ these practitioners were unable to do so, despite their apparent belief in the existence of such families and their close engagement with local communities.

The approach of the researchers has not yet been challenged and organisations such as the Centre for Social Justice and Policy Exchange who have talked previously about deviant cultures have yet to respond to the report, to the best of my knowledge.

The second point I would like to make about the research is how important it is at the present time. The report contains quotes about worklessness from figures such as Chris Grayling, Gordon Brown and Dame Carol Black, and Iain Duncan Smith frequently uses examples of such behaviour in his speeches:

“And those who have no interest in work … because they have seen their parents, their neighbours and their entire community sit on benefits for life … have simply had their destructive lifestyle confirmed..”


“This entrenched culture of  worklessness and dependency is not only the source of soaring welfare bills”

Even the DWP Social Justice Strategy has a section on ‘challenging the culture of worklessness’ . The idea of cultures of worklessness has also permeated down to local authorities and their partners and here are a few examples that I have come across in the North East:

Research carried out in 2010 … revealed low aspiration levels in some areas of the borough, in many cases as a result of second and third generation family unemployment.

The cultures embedded in second or third generation workless households, including benefit dependency, need to be changed

… highlighted a number of areas of concern, including … the problems of cultures of low aspiration and worklessness in some of our communities,

We will work towards enabling people to break the cycle of benefit dependency; encouraging a culture of work in every household

It will be interesting to see what the response of politicians, policy makers and practitioners is to this report. Let’s keep our eyes and ears peeled for the next mention of 2, 3, 4 or even 5 (yes I have heard it) generations of unemployed. Of course, the best way of proving the existence of intergenerational cultures of worklessness is to find families that fit the bill. And yet, nobody has found any such families – and certainly not in large enough numbers to suggest it is a cultural phenomenon.

N.B. In the interests of full disclosure, two of the authors of the report are colleagues of mine. Professor Tracy Shildrick is a member of the North East Child Poverty Commission and Professor Rob Macdonald is a member of the Institute for Local Governance Management Committee, where I am based.


Poverty & Ethnicity


Today sees the publication of data relating to ‘ethnicity’ from the 2011 Census (data for the population of the NE can be found here and live coverage of he release from The Guardian can be found here) and I found out yesterday that the Joseph Rowntree Foundation are carring out a project called ‘Census-ethnicity-change’ which will produce 6 timely policy issue briefings from the 2011 Census . The briefings will ‘provide analytical results of the ethnicity data and commentary on their implications’ and will be published at You can also follow this project on twitter @EthnicityUK

A couple of weeks ago we co-hosted an event with JRF and the Regional Refugee Forum exploring the links between poverty and ethnicity. The event was prompted following work that we did in producing our report exploring the approaches of the 12 local authorities in the North East to fulfilling their local duties under the Child Poverty Act. This work highlighted that, across the region, very little work had been carried out in the production of the Child Poverty Needs Assessments that helped to understand the needs of the regions BME communities. None of the priorities for action that local authorities identified made mention of particular or specific support for families and children from BME communities.

As part of Refugee Week, we also published a blog highlighting how information regarding the number of refugees living in poverty isn’t collected as, once they are granted leave to remain, they are not identified separately in HBAI or other government income or family related research. Herbert Dirahu opened the event by highlighting how the child poverty related priorities identified by local authorites would impact on refugees and asylum seekers. A copf of his presentation which was fascinating can be found by clicking on the image below.


Helen Barnard from JRF then gave an overview of their work in this area, highlighting some findings from work already undertaken as well as of projects that are currently underway. Again, the presentation which foucsed on three key themse of education, employment and care was incredibly useful and highlighted the ‘difference in diversity’ and how there is more inequality within groups than there is between them. It can be viewed by clicking on the image below.

JRF logo

Professor Gary Craig then provided an overview of how national policy changes and developments were having an impact in the North East region. The changes he identified included work around equality (especially interesting given David Cameron’s desire to do away with Equality Impact Assessments), the Big Society, Fairness Commissions and the move to Clinical Commissioing Groups. Gary has kindly provided us with the transcript of his presentation and it can again be viewed by clicking on the image below.

Race & Poverty

During the event, it was mentioned that a letter had been sent to senior politicians including the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition from Doreen Lawrence OBE and Dr. Richard Stone, advising against the removal of the Public Sector Equality Duty. A copy of the letter can be found here.

Best wishes,


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