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10% of British adults have never had a paid job

3.6 million 16-64-year-olds have never received a single paycheck.

The UK Prime Minister likes to boast that since her party came to power in 2010, Britain has experienced “record high” employment. Which is true: a huge three-quarters of UK adults are currently working.

But! During the same time period, the number of people who have never had a paid job has also gone steadily up. Considering employment is the way most people pay their bills and taxes, does that mean the government should be worried about footing ever-higher welfare costs with an ever-smaller budget? (Most government money comes from taxes.)

Short answer: probably not. The vast majority of the never-paids are young students in full time education. And although spending time studying instead of working has short-term costs for both individuals (who don’t get any income) and societies (who subsidise the cost of schooling and don't receive the tax/goods/services they'd get if students were working), most people think these costs are offset by the bigger long-term benefits.

Economists have long argued that education gives people skills, qualifications and training that can be turned into bigger salaries and better or more specialised work. These things increase individual productivity (the price of the stuff we create while working) which in turn increases economic growth (the sum of all that stuff workers are producing). That's why most governments now spend more education than they have historically.

Of course, not everyone thinks increasing productivity should be our motive for educating people, or that all education actually increases productivity, or that economic growth is even a good thing.

Read our explainer on: the labour market

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