Policy Exchange hits the headlines today with a report highlighting that 6 million are on out-of-work benefits. This is no guesstimate by a think tank, but borne out by official DWP figures* released recently (but not announced, they just slip 'em up on the website) showing the count at 5.8m in February. Given the trajectory of unemployment, it will have passed 6m now as PolEx shows and may well peak closer to 6.5m. The DWP website shows a time series for the last ten years - see it here which gives the below picture.
This is a remarkable 15.7% of the working-age population. But again, this is a national study and includes places like Wokingham (6%) and Surrey Heath (7%). Break down the picture regionally and it looks
Needless to say, if you go to the deprived parts of these cities - North East Glasgow, scene of an upcoming by-election for example - the picture will grow worse still. The UK economy may have returned to anaemic growth now (ie, the third quarter of 2008) but unemployment lags the cycle and will likely keep on rising until the middle of next year (and the release of data will be later still). So both of the above pictures will grow even uglier by the time of the election.
* The DWP includes "carers" in its definition - technically you cannot be a full-time worker and be a carer. Many would argue it's a job, but even if you strip them out - which the Conservatives do when dealing with this data series - it's still 5.4 million.