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Key points

  • The number of workers in insecure employment grew slightly between 2014 and 2023 from 3.1 million people to 3.5 million – 10.6% of the workforce.
  • After rising slowly between 2014 and 2019, the number and proportion of workers on zero-hours contracts increased sharply in 2020, reaching 1 million (40% increase compared to the year before) before decreasing significantly in 2022. This may reflect changes to working patterns during the pandemic.
  • The number and proportion of workers in non-permanent jobs decreased between 2014 and 2019 and increased between 2019 and 2022. It was at 1.6 million in 2023.

Job insecurity can cause stress due to its unpredictability and the lack of power people can have over the hours and conditions they work in when they are in insecure employment.

This chart shows the number of workers in insecure employment between 2014 and 2023.

  • There were a total of 3.5 million people in insecure work in 2023 – 10.6% of the workforce. 
  • 1,584,000 people (4.8% of the workforce) declared their job was in some way not permanent. 
  • The number of people self-employed in vulnerable sectors was 970,000 (2.9% of the workforce).
  • 775,000 people were on zero-hour contracts (2.3%) and 480,000 people (1.5% of the workforce) worked through an agency. 

Between 2014 and 2023, the overall proportion and number of workers in insecure jobs grew from 3.1 million (10.2% of the workforce) to 3.5million (10.6%). However, the composition of the group changed:

  • The number of people in non-permanent jobs was decreasing until 2019 but then increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2023, the number was lower than the peak but still above pre-pandemic levels. 
  • The number of people self-employed in vulnerable sectors increased steadily until 2019, but declined during the pandemic and remains below pre-pandemic levels.
  • The number of agency workers also rose in the years to 2019 and declined during the pandemic, but has risen again to a new peak in 2023. 
  • The number of individuals on zero-hour contracts increased by 40% from 2019 to 2020, reaching more than 1 million people. The number has decreased significantly by 2023 (to 775,000 people) – although it remains higher than it was in 2019.
  • This indicator is based on a framework provided to the ONS by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, modified to include zero-hour contracts. 
  • Insecure employment is made up of four categories: individuals employed on zero-hour contracts; workers employed through an employment agency; individuals in a job that is in some way not permanent; and individuals self-employed in the vulnerable sectors (caring and leisure; process, plant and machine operatives; elementary occupations). 
  • The sum of all the categories does not equal the total number of people in insecure work, because some individuals belong to more than one category at once.
  • Annual figures are averages of quarter 2 and quarter 4 data.

Source: Health Foundation analysis of Office for National Statistics, Quarterly Labour Force Survey, UK, 2014 to 2023

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