According to researchers from the Work Foundation at Lancaster University, the belief that people willingly choose insecure work for the supposed benefit of flexibility is flawed.
In fact, nearly half of those in insecure work would seek alternative employment if given the opportunity. The researchers argue that individuals feel trapped in these jobs due to various limiting factors, such as the high cost of childcare and transportation, as well as a lack of local job prospects.
The think-tank cautions that millions of insecure workers in the UK are particularly vulnerable due to the volatility in their pay, working hours, and the absence of essential protections like sick leave and redundancy pay. A recent study conducted by the Work Foundation in collaboration with UNISON surveyed 4,000 UK workers, half of whom were in insecure work. The findings revealed that one in four insecure workers struggle to make ends meet, with women being disproportionately affected.
The research highlights that insecure workers are more than three times as likely as secure workers to perceive the risk of job loss. Around 42% of insecure workers expect to lose their jobs within the next year, compared to only 13% of secure workers. Younger and older workers, low-income earners, and part-time workers are more likely to feel constrained in their ability to transition out of insecure work.
The impact is particularly pronounced for women in insecure employment. One-third of women report financial difficulties, compared to less than one-fourth of men. Furthermore, 16% of women in insecure work suffer from poor mental health, while the figure stands at 11% for men.
Ben Harrison, Director of the Work Foundation at Lancaster University, emphasizes the strain on workers in insecure jobs due to inflation, rising interest rates, and the escalating cost of living. He argues that while flexibility may seem like a benefit, nearly half of these workers disagree. Harrison stresses that without government intervention to address these challenges, individuals in insecure work will continue to be hindered from accessing more secure employment.
UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea highlights the detrimental impact of the cost-of-living crisis on low-income individuals. She emphasizes that those on zero-hours contracts and other forms of insecure employment not only face financial disadvantages but also lack crucial employment rights and benefits. McAnea calls for change and asserts that everyone should feel secure and thrive in their jobs.
The survey conducted alongside the study reveals additional concerning findings. One in three insecure workers is uncertain about their earnings in the next three months and is twice as likely to experience job-related stress as their counterparts in secure employment. Insecure workers are also more than four times as likely to face last-minute changes to their shifts, resulting in reduced pay. Over half of insecure workers earn less than the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Minimum Income Standard of £25,500, and 28% state that they are finding it difficult to make ends meet. Part-time insecure workers and freelancers face greater financial struggles compared to full-time workers.
The report highlights the need for flexibility to be incorporated into all job roles from the start of employment and made accessible to all workers. It calls for campaigns promoting flexible working, particularly targeted at men and disabled workers. The report also recommends increasing the rate of pay for workers on parental leave and developing a comprehensive plan to support the childcare sector in line with the needs and aspirations of parents.
The Work Foundation’s research provides valuable evidence to inform ongoing debates on the future of the UK labor market. It emphasizes the experiences and choices of those in insecure work, along with the necessary interventions to support workers in transitioning to better-paid and more secure jobs.
For the full report and recommendations, visit: https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/work-foundation