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Underemployed workers increase by one million since economic downturn, says ONS

The number of underemployed workers, people who are in employment but want to work more hours, has risen by one million since the start of the economic downturn in 2008, to stand at 3.05 million, shows a report published today from the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

It states that one in 10 of all workers in the UK are now officially underemployed.

The ONS said 1.9 million of the underemployed were in part-time jobs and this meant, in turn, that 24% of all part-timers wanted more work.

However, only 5.5% of full-time staff said they wanted to work more hours.

The ONS said the main reason for the growth of underemployment has been the economic downturn of the past few years.

"During this period many workers moved from full-time to part-time roles and many of those returning to work after a period of unemployment could only find part-time jobs," the statistical office said.

"Of the extra one million underemployed workers in 2012 compared with 2008, three-quarters were in part-time posts."

Andrew Sissons, researcher at The Work Foundation said: "Underemployment is a serious concern that is getting worse despite improvements in the labour market overall, with one in ten workers now in this position. Not only are underemployed workers struggling to make ends meet, they are also increasing the competition for jobs, making it even harder to reduce unemployment.

"The burden of underemployment falls disproportionately on the youngest and lowest paid members of the workforce, with young people aged 16 to 24 twice as likely to be underemployed than the average."

Sissons added: "These groups are already facing unprecedented falls in living standards, and cannot find enough work to offset the increases in their living costs."

Xenios Thrasyvoulou, founder and CEO of the online freelance marketplace Peopleperhour, said: "The labour market that emerged from the recession is not the same as the pre-crash one.

"This data is a stark illustration of a deep and fundamental shift in Britain's workforce. Underemployment surged in the recession, but has continued to rise even as the economy has returned to growth.

"An underemployed workforce is a wasted resource. But the growing market in freelance work offers the best hope of creating a more flexible workforce, and which wastes less of Britain's potential."

John Salt, director at recruitment website totaljobs.com, said: "A doubling in the number of involuntary part-timers points to a shift in the labour market, distinctly in favour of employers. The increase in part-time jobs is an indication of a flexible market, where firms don't bear as much risk if they want to lay staff off, for example.

"However, for those that would prefer a full time job, working per hour can have not only a huge impact on someone's finances but also their self-esteem."

He added: "Under-employment is the reason that we have managed to stave off the disastrous unemployment figures some had feared given the parlous state of the economy. But the numbers don't indicate any strength."