08 August 2023

The Living Wage Foundation has released the new report 'Precarious pay and uncertain hours: Insecure Work in the UK Labour Market'. The research looks at the scale of insecure work, including low paid insecure work, with analysis on how this has developed over time and where insecure work is typically spread across different regions, sectors and communities.

Below are some of the key findings from the report:

Scale of insecure work

  • 19 per cent of workers in the UK are in insecure work - 6.1 million in total
  • 11 per cent of workers in the UK are in low paid insecure work - 3.4 million in total.

Types of insecure work    

  • the most common forms of insecure work in the UK are workers with pay/hour instability (2.9 million workers) and low paid self-employment (2 million workers). Less common forms of insecure work include having a non-permanent job (1 million workers), being on a zero-hours contract (1 million workers) and being under-employed (220,000 workers)
  • most types of insecure work have declined over the past six years, with zero-hours contracts being the only exception.

Who is most impacted by insecure work 

  • more than half (55%) of workers earning below the living wage are in insecure work (3.4 million workers in total), compared to 11% of those earning at or above the living wage (2.7 million in total)
  • the sectors with the highest incidence of insecure workers are agriculture, forestry and fishing (53%), accommodation and food services (41%) and arts entertainment and recreation (37%)
  • minority ethnic workers, young workers and older workers are all disproportionately impacted by insecure work.

Impact of insecure work

  • 59% of workers whose hours vary have been called into work with less than a week’s notice. 13% of those with varying hours have been given less than 24 hours’ notice
  • around a quarter of workers with varying hours have had shifts cancelled by their employer unexpectedly
  • when shifts are cancelled, 90% of workers do not receive full payment, with 26% not receiving anything
  • 27% of workers with varying hours have had to pay higher travel costs due to being called into work on short notice, while 17% have had to pay higher childcare costs. 

The report further concludes:

‘‘Insecure work continues to be a significant feature within the UK Labour Market.

Over recent years, many low paid workers have felt the benefit of the UK’s ambitious minimum wage policy, alongside the huge take-up of the real Living Wage by employers.

The Low Pay Commission’s remit is set to be reviewed in 2024 as the National Living Wage reaches two-thirds of median income - which it is currently on course to do. It has been argued elsewhere that its remit should expand to cover labour standards aside from the minimum wage, and to include the amount of notice workers get for shifts.

We welcome this focus on work quality, alongside a strong wage floor, particularly given the absence of legislation around minimum standards with regards to work security. However, employers do not need to wait to provide security for their employees – the Living Hours standard provides an effective and practical approach to alleviating insecure work which almost 100 employers throughout the UK have already adopted.

We will continue to work with employers to adopt the Living Hours standard, alongside a real Living Wage, to ensure that workers throughout the UK are able to meet basic living costs, which during a cost-of-living-crisis, has never been more important.’’


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