• This analysis is part of a collection exploring how work affects health.
  • The charts on this page explore trends and inequalities in job security, reflecting on what these mean for people's health.
  • An insecure job can act as a stressor that affects health, due to the unpredictability and lack of power that people can have when they are in insecure employment.

How many people are in insecure work?

In 2018 2.4 million people were in potentially insecure work, which has remained relatively stable for four years. 

Note: much of the increase in zero-hours contracts between 2011 and 2014 reflected increased recognition of the term, which influenced survey responses. 

Why does this matter? 

There has been little reduction in insecure contract types over the last few years. Although many on these contracts welcome the flexibility, finding ways to mitigate or avoid the insecurity for others is necessary. 

Discussion 

This chart explores the three contract types most commonly associated with insecure work. In 2018, there were around 1.57 million temporary employees, 0.43 million permanent agency workers, and 0.38 million permanent zero-hour contract workers. The total number of employees in potentially insecure contracts was 2.4 million people, representing 7% of the entire labour force.   

In 2018, the number of permanents agency workers was 48% higher compared to the level recorded in 2011. The number of people working on permanent zero-hour contracts has increased even more rapidly. However, the growth between 2011 and 2015, at least partially, represented increasing awareness of the term and hence increased survey responses in the labour force survey.  

Temporary contracts have declined from a 2014 high of 1.75m to 1.57m in 2018. Temporary agency workers and zero-hours contract types are included in this figure.  

Not everyone on these contracts is experiencing insecurity, however. Many of those on temporary contracts or zero-hours contracts are doing so for their own reasons or do not actually experience hours that vary.

  • Insecure work captures all employees who work on a temporary basis and/or without guaranteed hours.   
  • This indicator excludes self-employed people who may also experience an element of insecurity.  
  • The permanent zero-hours contract category includes everyone on a zero-hours contract and not just those who state that it is their main work arrangement.   
  • This estimate for zero-hours contracts is lower than other estimates, as many of those on zero-hours contracts are counted under the temporary or agency contracts category.

Source: Health Foundation analysis of the Labour Force Survey, ONS.

How many people are in involuntary insecure work?

The number of people in involuntary insecure work has been falling. It declined from its peak of 1.2 million in 2012 to 0.9 million people in 2018.  

Why does this matter? 

This shows that the strong labour market performance experienced in recent years has helped to reduce the number of more insecure contracts highlighting the role a relatively strong labour market can have in providing workers with the opportunity to turn down insecure work.   

Discussion 

The involuntary measure of insecure work captures temporary contract employees who couldn’t find a permanent role (433,000); self-employed people who wish to work more hours (401,000); and permanent employees on zero-hours contracts who wish to work more hours (63,000). 

This stricter measure, even with the inclusion of the self-employed, shows relatively fewer people on contracts subject to insecurity. In 2018, the total number of people on these employment contracts was close to 900,000 which represents around 3% of the workforce.  

The total number recorded in 2018 represents a 24% reduction relative to five years earlier. This improvement is mainly driven by a lower number of people in temporary employment who couldn’t find a permanent role.

  • The permanent zero-hours contract category includes everyone on a zero-hours contract and not just those who state that it is their main work arrangement.

Source: Health Foundation analysis of the Labour Force Survey, ONS.

Which groups are most likely to be in insecure work?

  • Age: Younger adults are more likely to be in insecure work.
  • Ethnicity: Adults of Pakistani or Black ethnicity have the highest exposure to insecure work.
  • Region: The region with the highest proportion of people in involuntary insecure work was Yorkshire and the Humber (3.8%) and the lowest was the North West (3.1%).

Why does this matter? 

Inequalities in health outcomes for different groups can be explained in part by inequalities in wider determinants such as insecure employment. Reducing health inequalities will require action on such wider determinants.  

Discussion 

Ethnicity

Certain ethnicity groups are disproportionately likely to be in involuntary insecure working patterns. Pakistani and Black ethnic backgrounds in particularly are more likely to be in one of these types of employment. 5.2% of people in these ethnic groups either want to work more hours or cannot find a permanent role. The groups with the lowest proportion of people in involuntary insecure work are Indian (2.2%) and White (2.6%).   

Age

Certain age groups are disproportionately likely to be in involuntary insecure working patterns. 4.1% of employed people between the ages of 16 and 24 either want to work more hours or cannot find a permanent role. The percentage is lowest for people aged 45-54, at 2.3%. 

Policymakers should be concerned with ensuring that young adults do not get trapped in insecure employment through in-work training and development opportunities.

Region

An individual’s probability of experiencing insecure employment can be related to where they live, suggesting the need for sufficiently resourced local strategies. 

The highest prevalence of insecure working patterns was in Yorkshire and the Humber, the West Midlands, and Wales in 2017/18, although differences between the regions were relatively moderate. 

The biggest improvements between 2012/13 and 2017/18 have been in the South East (-0.83ppt) and East of England (-0.77ppt), whereas the West Midlands (+0.09ppt), and Yorkshire and the Humber (+0.08ppt) have experienced no improvement over this time span. 

  • The involuntary measure of insecure work captures temporary contract employees who couldn’t find a permanent role; self-employed people who wish to work more hours; and permanent employees on zero-hours contracts who wish to work more hours.
  • The permanent zero-hours contract category includes everyone on a zero-hours contract and not just those who state that it is their main work arrangement.   

Source: Health Foundation analysis of the Labour Force Survey, ONS.

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