The real problems of ‘in-work poverty’ and ‘underemployment’ are finally making some headlines, elbowing their way into the usual discourse about welfare to work and benefit dependency. But that isn’t enough. Politicians, policy makers and welfare practitioners talk confidently of ‘three generations of families where no-one has ever worked’.

A new study for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation tested these ideas. The aim was to see whether cultures of worklessness helped explain long-term unemployment in families across generations. We undertook concerted, intensive fieldwork in very deprived neighbourhoods of Glasgow and Middlesbrough but we were unable to locate any families with three generations who had never worked. If such families exist, they can only account for a minuscule fraction of workless people.

Recent surveys suggest that less than one per cent of workless households might have two generations who have never worked. Families with three such generations will therefore be even fewer.

[Read more: liberalconspiracy]