Precarious stones

6.8m People Were In Severely Insecure Work Last Year

According to research by the Work Foundation, 6.8 million people were in severely insecure work last year, an increase of 600k compared to 2022.  This represents just over one in five workers in the UK, and the data also indicates three in five (60%) newly insecure workers are women.

The report defines “severely insecure work” as people who are involuntarily part-time or temporary, or having two or more ‘insecure’ factors such as low pay, variable pay, second job, less than 2 years in current role, or self-employed.

Those already disadvantaged are most affected

The data shows that workers who experience other forms of labour market disadvantage are likely to be in severely insecure work:

  • The rate of insecure work grew more strongly among Indian workers and Black African and Black Caribbean workers than White British workers and other ethnic minority groups.
  • Young workers (aged 18-24) are twice as likely as older age workers (50-65) to be in severely insecure work.
  • A record 1.45 million disabled workers are now in severely insecure work.

Worringly, severely insecure work costs people £3,276 each per year, compared to those in secure work.

Why is insecure work increasing?

The rise in insecure work is driven in part by people re-entering employment post-COVID, meaning they are in currently in jobs for less than 2 years.  Secondly, the number of zero-hour contract workers has increased by 106,000 to a record of 1.1 million, which the report authors say is likely due employers’ hesitancy to offer more stable jobs.

Lastly, self-employment is now increasing, as this way of working recovers from it’s severe downturn caused by the pandemic.  The gain in popularity suggests that either entrepreneurship is attractive once more, or that this is a last resort for people with no other option – disabled people often ‘choose’ self-employment as their only realistic option due to the barriers they face in obtaining more structured work opportunities.

The breadth of self-employment

Of course the income opportunity from self-employment varies wildly from low pay to high incomes, ranging from gig economy delivery drivers to highly qualified professionals, and everyone in between.  The fact that some people make an informed decision to work in this way doesn’t make it any more secure, whatever the income generated self-employed people are not entitled to statutory sick pay, maternity/paternity leave or paid holiday.

Action is needed

In the light of their findings, the Work Foundation calls for an Employment Bill that seeks to substantially reduce insecure work in the UK.  They also want an immediate halt to any further tightening of welfare sanctions and suggest a full independent review is urgently required.  Given that a general election is due this year, we hope that politicians will finally recognise the importance of this workforce, and commit to better supporting people who work in this way.

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