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Social Justice

Mass insecure work leaves families ‘struggling to keep heads above water’

Nearly four million people are trapped in insecure work while being paid less than they need to meet their living costs, new research has revealed

Around 3.7 million people in the UK are struggling to get by despite being in work, new research has shown, with insecure hours and paltry pay impacting workers’ health and ability to plan their lives.

Nearly half received less than a week’s notice of their working hours, according to a Living Wage Foundation (LWF) survey, frequently forcing low-paid workers to pay a premium for last-minute transport and childcare.

“Insecure work has been a consistent feature of the labour market over the past twenty years,” said Graham Griffiths, director of the LWF. 

“The result is millions of people unable to get the hours and the pay they need to meet their everyday needs, with many families throughout the UK struggling to keep their heads above water.  

“Over the past year this problem has been exacerbated, with many low paid workers in insecure jobs also more likely to lose work.”

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Around 46 per cent of people in insecure and low-paid jobs were away from work in lockdown, with the majority furloughed, compared to 17 per cent of those in stable work paying above the real living wage of £10.85 per hour in London and £9.50 per hour elsewhere. It meant households already trying to make ends meet on low earnings had their incomes slashed while living costs increased at home.

The 3.7 million workers included people who reported “volatile” pay or working hours like zero-hours contracts, non-permanent roles such as casual, seasonal or fixed-term jobs and self-employed people on low wages. Those who met more than one of the measures were only counted once in the research, which surveyed 2,021 UK adults.

Of those polled, 12 per cent reported receiving less than 24 hours’ notice for their shifts or schedules, and almost half had experienced shifts being cancelled unexpectedly – with nearly 90 per cent being denied full pay for hours cancelled at the last minute.

“The scourge of insecure work and poverty wages that is blighting millions of lives is proof that our economic model is broken,” said Angela Rayner, Labour’s shadow secretary for the future of work.

“A job should provide security, dignity and a proper wage that you can support your family on.

“We need a new deal for working people. Labour will deliver an immediate living wage of at least £10 an hour, end insecure work and zero-hours contracts by creating a single status of ‘worker’, and give all workers full rights from day one on the job so that everyone has the right to sick pay, the minimum wage, and holiday pay.”

Workers in Wales and the north-east of England, one of the most deprived areas in the country, were worst affected, while people in health and social work, construction, hospitality and transport jobs faced the most precarious working conditions and poorest pay.

A quarter of people in insecure work said they faced paying extra costs due to receiving short notice for shifts, such as increased travel costs or expensive last-minute childcare, while 40 per cent said it was negatively affecting their ability to manage both work and personal lives.

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There is a real danger that as we look to recover from the huge damage of the pandemic, we fail to recognise the vital need for an economy built on jobs with decent pay and secure hours,” Griffiths added. 

“This is what we need for a modern, dynamic economy that delivers stability to workers, families and businesses.” 

The research revealed disparity in working conditions by ethnicity, with 25 per cent of Bangladeshi people facing poor pay and precarious hours compared to 10 per cent of white workers.

People aged 70 or above were the most likely to be in low-paid insecure work (35 per cent), followed by 16 to 19-year-olds (27 per cent).

“Businesses need to provide jobs that treat and pay people fairly,” said Danny Harmer, chief people officer at Aviva. The insurance company signed up to the LWF’s Living Hours scheme, which requires bosses to give employees at least four weeks’ notice of working hours and guaranteed payments if shifts are then cancelled, the right to a contract which accurately reflects hours worked and a guaranteed minimum of 16 hours a week dependent on the worker’s wishes.

“We should not underestimate the impact unstable and unpredictable hours have on the individual, and on their families too,” Harmer added. “Signing up to Living Hours stands for providing financial clarity and certainty. That means happier and healthier colleagues which is good for customers, business and society.”

The research follows the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s findings, released two weeks ago, which found millions of Brits were falling short of the minimum standard income they needed to live secure and stable lives even if they earned a living wage or received universal credit.

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