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Insecure work reaches all-time high

Three quarters (73.5%) of people currently on zero-hours contracts are in severely insecure work

The number of people in insecure work in the UK has reached an all-time high of 4.1 million, or one in eight people, analysis by the Trade Union Congress (TUC) has revealed (14 June). 

TUC researchers found that the number of people in precarious employment increased by nearly one million between 2011 and 2023. The rise was three times faster than that of secure forms of employment.

Neil Pickering, senior manager of HR Innovation at the HR technology supplier UKG, suggested that the rise of people in precarious employment was due to the increased demand for flexibility, and people losing their jobs throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “There are two primary drivers for the rise in insecure work. Firstly, during Covid, many people lost what would have been considered more secure jobs, and were forced to turn to less secure roles to maintain an income. 

“Secondly, people are more commonly looking for roles that offer greater flexibility that come at the cost of less security, taking on roles in industries such as logistics, retail and hospitality.”

Read more: Disabled workers 1.5 times more likely to be in severely insecure work

Young people, women, people with disabilities, and Indian, Black African and Black Caribbean workers were more likely to be in insecure work than other demographics, research from thinktank The Work Foundation found (February 2024). 

The foundation's researchers also found that 73.5% of people aged 16 to 65 who are currently on zero-hours contracts in the UK are in severely insecure work, meaning that they face contractual and financial insecurity, and a lack of access to rights and protections.

Pam Loch, founder and managing director of law firm Loch Associates, told HR magazine that employers who engage self-employed or casual workers could provide increased benefits and security.

“Employees benefit from extra protection and security which is more extensive than workers or self-employed people. However, the contracting party could provide those benefits and greater security under the agreement they have entered into, if they wanted to do that.”

Read more: Labour's manifesto: What HR needs to know

Pickering suggested that employers could also invest in workers’ skills to improve relations with the self-employed and casual workers they engage.

He added: “Employers can commit to improving the skills of workers and invest in their development. This will not only make them more employable but it will also improve relations with these people, increasing the likelihood of re-employing them when needed.”

Changes to employment law could extend protections for workers and self-employed people, Loch added.

“Given the confusion around who meets the criteria for being self employed, changing the definitions under the Employment Rights Act or introducing new legislation to set out very clearly who is or is not self employed would remove the ambiguity that exists at present over that status, which can facilitate the lack of security for workers currently.  

“However the government should also change the tax legislation so that the employment and tax legislation is aligned and the test is the same for who is self employed and who is not self employed.”

The Labour Party has pledged to ban zero-hours contracts should it win the next election. This is not mentioned in the Conservatives' manifesto.