Precarious pay and uncertain hours

Think tank: The Living Wage Foundation

Author(s): Joe Richardson

August 3, 2023

This report from UK think tank the Living Wage Foundation looks at how insecure work is a key feature of the UK economy.

Several shockwaves have been sent through the UK Labour Market over recent years. Covid-19 saw all non-essential economic activity grind to a halt, leaving millions of workers furloughed and a smaller (though not insignificant) number fall out of the labour market due to long-term sickness or caring responsibilities, many of whom are yet to return. More recently the cost-of-living-crisis has also left its mark, the clearest manifestation being the real-term pay cut most UK workers are currently facing, despite nominal wage growth being at historically high levels – hitting 7.2 per cent in April 2023.   Throughout this period, a welcome, yet unexpected constant, has been low unemployment, peaking at 5.2 per cent since the start of the pandemic and sitting at 3.8 per cent at the time of writing.

While the post-pandemic peak was somewhat elevated, it is by no means high in historic terms, with the rate being higher only as far back as 2015. However, while a high quantity of jobs has been a prominent feature within the UK Labour Market over recent years, a high quality of jobs has not.   As argued in this report, insecure work is a key feature of the UK economy, with  6.1m workers experiencing some form of work insecurity. This is a slight decrease on previous years. Insecure work is unevenly distributed throughout the UK, with particular sectors, regions and communities being more impacted than others. Finally, insecure work is also deeply connected with low pay, meaning a similar cohort of workers feel the sharp end of both low pay and insecure hours.