New research published today by the Health Foundation shows that one in three (36%) UK employees report having a low-quality job.

The analysis also shows that people in low-quality jobs are much more likely to have poor health and twice as likely to report their health is not good (15% compared to 7%).

The research is based on analysis of Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study. The Health Foundation analysis goes beyond traditional indicators of job insecurity such as unemployment, self-employment or zero-hours contracts to explore workers’ perceptions of job quality and the implications for their health.

Policy in recent years has largely focused on getting people into work. This research argues that to improve health, the quality of work also needs to be addressed. Stress – which can be caused by being in low-quality work – damages the body and builds over time. That’s why it is particularly concerning that half (51%) of people in low-quality work in 2010/11 were still in low-quality work six years later.

The research shows how some regions and population groups are disproportionately affected by low-quality work. Over half (55%) of employees under 25 years old report being in low-quality work, compared to around a third (33%) of those aged 25 plus. There are also significant geographical variations with Northern Ireland (42%), Wales (42%), the North East (40%), and West Midlands (40%) all having high levels of low-quality work.

Adam Tinson, the report’s author and Senior Analyst at the Health Foundation, said:

‘These findings highlight the scale and persistence of low-quality work. Our choice of occupation shapes our health directly, and underpins other factors that matter for health such as our income or social networks.

‘Low-quality work is where someone feels stressed and unfulfilled, whether that’s due to pay, insecurity, a lack of autonomy or a feeling of dissatisfaction. This can harm people’s health. It’s broader than roles that are temporary or with varying hours. 

‘With the UK’s employment law set for review as it leaves the EU, there should be a particular focus on improving job quality in order to maintain and improve health. To boost job quality, employers should give greater consideration to job security, job design, management practices and the working environment.’

Notes to editors

A low-quality job is defined as a job which has two or more perceived negative aspects such as low levels of autonomy, wellbeing, security and/or satisfaction, as well as low pay.

Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study is a survey of 40,000 people in the UK.

Media contact

Diana Mackie
020 7257 8039

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