Cracking the Code of Insecurity: UK’s Startling Reality Revealed by the Living Wage Foundation

September 6, 2023

In a recent release, the Living Wage Foundation presents its latest research publication, “Precarious Pay and Uncertain Hours: Insecure Work in the UK Labour Market.” This comprehensive report delves into the landscape of insecure employment in the United Kingdom, shedding light on its prevalence, evolution, and the diverse ways it impacts different regions, sectors, and communities. In this blog, we’ll explore some of the report’s key findings and their implications for workers and policymakers alike. 

Understanding the Scale of Insecure Work

The report reveals that a significant portion of the UK workforce grapples with insecurity in their employment: 

  • Approximately 19% of all workers in the UK, totalling 6.1 million individuals, are engaged in insecure work. 
  • Of these, 11%, or 3.4 million workers, are ensnared in the realm of low-paid insecure work. 

Various Facets of Insecure Employment

Insecure work takes on various forms in the UK, with some being more prevalent than others: 

The most common manifestations include workers experiencing fluctuations in pay or hours (2.9 million workers) and engaging in low-paid self-employment (2 million workers). 

Less frequent instances involve individuals holding non-permanent positions (1 million workers), being bound by zero-hours contracts (1 million workers), or enduring underemployment (220,000 workers). 

Interestingly, most types of insecure work have seen a decline over the past six years, with zero-hours contracts being the sole exception. 

Groups Most Vulnerable to Insecure Employment

The report underlines that certain demographics bear the brunt of insecure work: 

A striking 55% of workers earning below the living wage find themselves in insecure employment, constituting 3.4 million workers. In contrast, only 11% of those earning at or above the living wage, a total of 2.7 million individuals, face similar challenges. 

Sectors such as agriculture, forestry, and fishing (53%), accommodation and food services (41%), and arts, entertainment, and recreation (37%) exhibit the highest incidence of insecure employment. 

Vulnerable groups, including minority ethnic workers, young workers, and older workers, experience disproportionate impacts from insecure work. 

The Toll of Insecure Work

The report unveils the personal toll of unpredictable work schedules: 

  • A staggering 59% of workers whose hours vary have been summoned to work with less than a week’s notice, while 13% received less than 24 hours’ notice. 
  • Approximately one-quarter of workers with varying hours have had shifts abruptly cancelled by their employers. 
  • When shifts are cancelled, a whopping 90% of workers do not receive their full payment, leaving 26% with nothing. 
  • An additional burden arises from increased travel costs for 27% of workers called into work on short notice, while 17% grapple with higher childcare expenses. 

The Way Forward 

The report emphasises the enduring presence of insecure work in the UK labour market. While recent years have seen the positive effects of ambitious minimum wage policies and the widespread adoption of the real Living Wage by employers, more needs to be done. 

The Low Pay Commission’s upcoming review in 2024 offers a crucial opportunity to expand its remit beyond the minimum wage. This expansion could encompass labour standards beyond just wages, including measures to ensure workers receive adequate notice for shifts. The report welcomes this shift in focus, especially in the absence of legislation addressing work security. 

Employers, however, need not wait for regulatory changes to provide security for their employees. The Living Hours standard offers an effective and practical approach to mitigating insecure work, already adopted by nearly 100 employers across the UK. 

In these challenging times, ensuring that workers can meet their basic living costs remains paramount. The Living Wage Foundation is committed to collaborating with employers to implement the Living Hours standard alongside a genuine Living Wage, promoting economic security for workers throughout the UK, a cause now more vital than ever during the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. 

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Jessica Haunch

Jessica is our Payroll Director who has built up over 11 years of experience within the Payroll industry.  She leads our payroll department which is a national function that is strategically placed across all of our offices.

Jessica is responsible for ensuring her team works efficiently and accurately while maintaining compliance with all relevant regulations.

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