The Government was accused of “deserting” millions of people after official figures showed the number of households in the UK with no one over the age of 16 working has increased by 240,000 in the past year to 3.3m.
The Office for National Statistics yesterday said the number of working-age people in workless households jumped by 500,000 to 4.8m in the year to June.
The workless household rate increased by 1.1% to 16.9%, the highest since 1999 and the biggest year-on-year increase since Labour came to power in 1997.
The number of children in workless households was 1.9m in June, up by 170,000 from 2008.
The Conservatives said Labour had deserted millions stuck in a “cycle of worklessness”.
Shadow work and pensions secretary Theresa May said the figures painted a bleak picture, adding: “It is scandalous that we have millions of adults unable to break out of the vicious cycle of worklessness.
“To add insult to injury, this is a problem that has been lying dormant for a number of years that Labour chose to ignore. It is also extremely distressing that nearly 2m children now live in workless households, shattering Gordon Brown's pledge to halve child poverty by 2010. Unless Labour takes some decisive action, we risk losing a generation of young people.”
Steve Webb, Liberal Democrat shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “Labour's claims to have tackled worklessness have been exposed as fantasy. The alarming jump in the number of households where no-one is working is a sure sign that the recession will have a devastating impact on hundreds of thousands of families.”
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “This concerning rise in the number of children in workless households shows the devastating impact that rising unemployment can have on families.
“With unemployment continuing to rise sharply, it is vital that the Government continues to do more to get people back to work.
“The Future Jobs Fund must continue to be properly resourced and expanded so that more people — including older job seekers — can benefit from it.”