744,000 people in the UK now on zero-hours contracts

The latest data from the ONS shows a steep rise in the number of people in insecure work


Figures released today by the ONS show that the number of people working zero-hours contracts (ZHCs) in the UK has increased by 19 per cent over the past year. These are contracts which do not guarantee a minimum number of hours, meaning that workers have unpredictable hours and wages, and reduced employment rights.

According to the ONS there are now 744,000 people on ZHCs, representing 2.4 per cent of people in UK employment. The ONS notes that these people are more likely to be women, in full-time education or in young or older age groups when compared with other people in employment.

The ONS report also includes figures on  the number of employers who say they use ZHCs – their survey estimates that there are around 1.5 million ZHCs in the UK. The difference in these figures can be accounted for by the fact that some workers might have more than one ZHC, or may have a ZHC but not list it as their main job.

On average, someone on a ZHC works 25 hours a week. While there are benefits to this kind of work – the flexibility it offers is convenient for parents and carers –  around 40 per cent of people on ZHCs told the Labour Force Survey that they would like more hours in their current job.

Recent research by the TUC showed that average weekly earnings for ZHC workers are just £188, compared to £479 for permanent workers. ZHC workers may also find themselves turned down for mortgages or loans due to the unstable nature of their income.

The ONS notes in today’s publication that the number of ZHC workers could actually be much higher, as some people may not recognise the term ‘zero-hours’ when asked to describe their employment. This could also mean that the rise this year has not been as sharp as it looks, as it could simply be a case of more people becoming cognisant of the term.

Nevertheless, the number is high and suggests that ZHCs are becoming a permanent feature of the labour market. The TUC’s Frances O’Grady called the report ‘a stark reminder of Britain’s two-tier workforce’, and said she challenged any minister or business leader to live not knowing when their next pay cheque would come.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. 

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