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Underrepresented groups consistently trapped in insecure work

Women, disabled workers, ethnic minorities and young workers have been disproportionately affected by insecure employment over the last 20 years.

Research from Lancaster University think tank The Work Foundation found an estimated 6.2 million people were in insecure work in 2021, which was defined in the report as forms of work that are precarious, unprotected or low-paid.

The research found 43% of young workers aged between 16-24 across the UK were more likely to be in insecure work, compared to 17% for workers aged 25-65.

Women were more likely to be in insecure work compared to men (25% vs 15%), while 24% of ethnic minority employees were working insecurely as opposed to 19% of their white counterparts.

Disabled workers were more likely to be in insecure work than non-disabled workers, at 24% vs 19%.

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Rebecca Florisson, policy advisor with the Work Foundation at Lancaster University, said fundamental issues in the labour market were contributing to these demographics being heavily affected.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: "Structural inequalities in the labour market mean women, disabled people and people from ethnic minority backgrounds are more likely to experience severely insecure work. They often face barriers to entering work, and many of those who do, still face substantial pay gaps.

"Too often, these workers find themselves having to accept more insecure forms of work, lacking key employment rights and carrying the burden of significant risk when it comes to variable hours, low pay and fewer opportunities to progress."

The report recommended government bring forward the Employment Bill before the end of this parliament.

The Employment Bill, first promised in 2019 designed to strengthen employee rights in the UK, was scrapped from this year's Queen's Speech. 

Florisson added: "Ultimately this is a political choice, and in the longer term, it’s vital that the government returns to its commitment to bring forward an Employment Bill to reinforce employment protections and extend rights to the 6.2 million workers in precarious jobs."

Other suggestions included raising Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) to match the national minimum wage, extending mandatory pay reporting to disabled workers and those from ethnic minority backgrounds, and the Department for Work and Pensions raising the profile of its Access to Work scheme for disabled workers.

Reforms for the current SSP system were brought to parliament earlier this month, including increasing the proportion of salary covered by SSP from 28% to 63%.

The Work Foundation analysed data from the Office of National Statistics from 2000 to 2021.