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TUC – number of people in insecure work reaches record 4.1 million

1 in 8 workers now in employment that offers little or no security, says union body

  • Insecure work has risen nearly three times faster than secure forms of employment since 2011, analysis shows 
  • TUC accuses Conservatives of presiding over a “race to the bottom” on employment standards 
  • Union body says New Deal for Working People urgently needed 

The number of people in insecure work has reached a record high of 4.1 million, according to new TUC analysis published today (Friday). 

The analysis of official statistics shows the number of people in precarious employment – such as zero-hours-contracts, low-paid self-employment and casual/seasonal work – increased by nearly one million between 2011 and 2023. 

Over that period insecure work rose nearly three times faster than secure forms of employment. While the numbers in insecure work increased by 31%, those in secure employment increased by just 11%. 

The TUC estimates that 1 in 8 workers in the UK are now employed in precarious employment. 

However, in some parts of the country, such as the West Midlands and the South West, this number has risen to 1 in 7. 

Low-paid industries have fuelled most of the growth 

The growth in insecure work since 2011 has been fuelled mainly by lower-paid sectors of the economy. 

In care, leisure, service occupations and elementary occupations the number of people in precarious employment has rocketed by over 600,000 (+70%) since 2011. 

Insecure work pay penalty 

Today’s analysis also shows that people in insecure work face a severe pay penalty compared to other workers. 

People on zero-hours contracts earn over a third (35%) less an hour, on average, than workers on median pay. 

And the pay gap between workers in seasonal (-33%) and casual (-37%) work and median earners is also stark. 

New Deal “urgently needed” 

The TUC says the huge rise in insecure and low-paid work highlights the need for boosting workers’ rights and making work pay. 

The union body says Labour’s New Deal for Working People would be a “game changer” if delivered in full – with the biggest upgrade in workers’ rights in a generation. 

In April the Chartered Management Institute polling of managers revealed strong support for key New Deal policies:   

  • More than 4 in 5 (82%) managers said granting workers fundamental day one rights was important.   
  • 3 in 4 (74%) managers said a ban on zero-hours contracts was important, and 
  • 3 in 4 (74%) managers said the publication of ethnicity and disability pay gaps was important. 

The polling also revealed that 80% managers believe workers’ rights should be a top priority in national policies, while 83% said such changes can positively impact workplace productivity. 

TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said:  

“We need a government that will make work pay. 

“But over the last 14 years we have seen an explosion in insecure, low-paid work. 

“The UK’s long experiment with a low-rights, low-wage economy has been terrible for growth, productivity and living standards. 

“Real wages are still worth less than in 2008, and across the country people are trapped in jobs that offer little or no security.” 

On the need for change, Paul added: 

“We must end the Conservatives’ race to the bottom on employment standards.  

“The New Deal is an opportunity for a reset. Delivered in full – it would be a game changer for millions of working people. 

“As well as preventing workers from being treated like throw-away labour it would stop good employers from being undercut by the bad.” 

If delivered in full Labour’s New Deal will:  

  • Strengthen collective bargaining by introducing fair pay agreements to boost pay and conditions – starting in social care.   
  • Introduce ethnicity pay gap reporting and disability pay gap reporting.   
  • Ban zero-hours contracts to help end the scourge of insecure work.  
  • Give all workers day one rights on the job. Labour will scrap qualifying time for basic rights, such as unfair dismissal, sick pay, and parental leave.   
  • Ensure all workers get reasonable notice of any change in shifts or working time, with compensation that is proportionate to the notice given for any shifts cancelled or curtailed.  
  • Beef up enforcement by making sure the labour market enforcement bodies have the powers they need to undertake targeted and proactive enforcement work and bring civil proceedings upholding employment rights. 

Editors note

Growth in insecure work  

 

2023 

2011 

change 

Total in insecure work   

4,144,600 

3,157,700 

986,900 

Total in work  

33,193,100 

29,405,100 

3,788,000 

Proportion in insecure work 

12.5% 

10.7% 

1.7% 

Growth in insecure work versus overall employment 

 

2023 

2011 

change 

Total in insecure work   

4,144,600 

3,157,700 

31% 

Total in secure work 

29,048,500 

26,247,400 

11% 

Total in overall work 

33,193,100 

29,405,100 

13% 

Growth in insecure work by occupation 

2023 

Insecure work 

In employment 

Insecure work proportion 

Managers, Directors and Senior Officials 

292,200 

3,574,900 

8.2% 

Professional Occupations 

504,400 

8,691,700 

5.8% 

Associate Professional Occupations 

490,200 

5,056,000 

9.7% 

Administrative and Secretarial Occupations 

196,700 

3,101,600 

6.3% 

Skilled Trades Occupations 

584,100 

2,935,300 

19.9% 

Caring, Leisure and Other Service Occupations 

593,800 

2,721,400 

21.8% 

Sales and Customer Service Occupations 

272,400 

2,091,400 

13.0% 

Process, Plant and Machine Operatives 

339,500 

1,834,900 

18.5% 

Elementary Occupations 

829,600 

3,120,600 

26.6% 

  

  

  

  

2011 

Insecure work 

In employment 

Insecure work proportion 

Managers, Directors and Senior Officials 

306,000 

2,910,800 

10.5% 

Professional Occupations 

340,300 

5,565,200 

6.1% 

Associate Professional and Technical Occupations 

357,600 

4,051,000 

8.8% 

Administrative and Secretarial Occupations 

204,600 

3,320,300 

6.2% 

Skilled Trades Occupations 

585,400 

3,233,700 

18.1% 

Caring, Leisure and Other Service Occupations 

342,100 

2,685,100 

12.7% 

Sales and Customer Service Occupations 

220,100 

2,403,100 

9.2% 

Process, Plant and Machine Operatives 

316,100 

1,867,200 

16.9% 

Elementary Occupations 

475,200 

3,295,800 

14.4% 

Methodology 

The total number in ‘insecure work’ includes:   

(1) Agency, casual, seasonal and other workers, but not those on fixed – term contracts.   

(2) Workers whose primary job is a zero-hours contract. 
To note – data on temporary workers and zero-hour workers is taken from the Labour Force Survey Q4 in 2011 and 2023. Double counting has been excluded. 

(3) Self-employed workers who are paid below 66% of median earnings – defined as low pay.   

The data on the low paid self-employed is from the Family Resources Survey 2010/2011 and 2022/23 and commissioned by the TUC from Landman Economics. The Family Resources Survey suggests that fewer people are self-employed than the Labour Force Survey. And the data from the Family Resources survey looks at from age 18+. 

Between 2011 and 2023 – there was an occupational code change – this mainly affected a review a review of the classification of roles as professional or associate professional – more information here: SOC 2020 Volume 1: structure and descriptions of unit groups - Office for National Statistics 

Hourly pay for those in insecure work and median earners 

2023 

Four quarter average 

ZHC  

£9.80 

Working for an employment agency 

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