Employment insecurity affects many people but, overall, work in the UK is as secure as it was 20 years ago, with limited evidence of growing casualisation, new research from the CIPD finds. 

The report Megatrends: Is work really becoming more insecure? finds that at 20%, the share of non-permanent employment in the UK - which includes the self-employed and temporary workers (including temporary zero hours contract workers) - has not increased since 1998.

The share of ‘involuntary’ temporary workers who would rather have a permanent job is highly cyclical and ebbs and flows with the economic climate. It peaked at about 41% in 1994, before falling to just under 26% in 2007. It increased again during the economic downturn to 40% in 2013 before falling again to just under 27% by 2018. 

The report, based on analysis of data from a range of sources including the ONS, also shows that most people in atypical employment - whether they are self-employed, working in the digital gig economy or on a zero hours contract - choose to work in this way and are broadly satisfied. 

In addition, there is no long-term increase in the under-employment rate of workers who want more hours, which was just under 7% between 2002 and 2007. It then peaked at about 10% in 2011 and fell back to just over 7% in 2018.  

The research also compares the UK with the EU on various measures of employment security and finds that it has a low share of non-permanent employment, but it also has a more unequal wage structure and a higher share of low-paid jobs than most EU states.

The report concludes that, while it’s important to improve the conditions and rights of people working atypically, policy makers need to focus more attention on improving the quality of employment for people in ‘regular’ jobs who account for a significant majority of total employment, for example, by doing more to address the causes of low pay and preventing discrimination at work.

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, said: 

“This report counters some of the common rhetoric that employment in the UK is becoming more insecure. On a wide range of indicators, the evidence suggests that, overall, employment security has remained broadly stable over the last two decades with very little evidence of any structural big increase in casual and insecure work. Increases in employment insecurity where they have occurred seem to be cyclical, linked to economic downturns, rather than a long-term trend.

“This suggests that more attention should be paid by policy makers and employers on improving job quality and workplace productivity across the economy to tackle problems such  as low pay and discrimination, not simply on improving the rights and security of atypical workers, important though this is.

“The Government needs to outline in its Industrial Strategy additional measures to work with employers to improve how people are managed and developed. For example, through ensuring sector deals are contingent on plans to improve leadership and people management practices, providing enhanced business support to small firms and improving labour market enforcement.”

Other key findings from the report include: 

  • Overall, 85% of the labour force were categorised as employees in 2018, compared with 87% in 1998. The proportion of full-time employees in 2018 was 63% compared to 65% in 1998.  
  • Average job tenure in the UK was 8.6 years in 2017, compared to 8 years in 1997. The share of employees in long-tenure jobs of ten years or more has also hardly changed, standing at 32% in 2017, compared with 30% in 1997. 
  • The proportion of people categorised as self-employed increased from just under 13% 
  • The share of young people aged between 15 and 24 in self-employment or temporary work has remained almost static, edging up from just over 17% in 1999 to just under 18% in 2018.
  • The UK has a relatively low level of non-permanent work by international standards at 20%, which compares with an EU average of 28%. 

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At the CIPD, we champion better work and working lives. We help organisations to thrive by focusing on their people, supporting economies and society for the future. We lead debate as the voice for everyone wanting a better world of work.