UK

Record number of young people on zero-hour contracts – report

The Work Foundation warned that only a minority of zero-hour workers have regular pay and access to rights.

The number of young workers on zero-hour contracts has reached a new record, new research suggests
The number of young workers on zero-hour contracts has reached a new record, new research suggests (Alamy Stock Photo)

The number of young workers on zero-hour contracts has reached a new record, new research suggests.

An analysis by the Work Foundation indicated that 136,000 more workers were given zero-hour contracts in 2023 compared to 2022, with two thirds of those handed to 16–24 year olds.

The Work Foundation said only a minority of zero-hour workers have regular pay and access to rights.

Its data suggested three in four of the 1.1 million people on zero-hour contracts are in “severely insecure work”.

Alice Martin, head of research at the Work Foundation at Lancaster University, said: “Zero-hour contracts have previously been hailed the answer to flexible work, but our research shows too often it is only employers that have choices, workers do not.

“The data shows these contracts affect certain workers more than others, and it is young workers – particularly young women – who are bearing the brunt of policy-makers inaction.

“After a decade of indecision over zero-hour contracts, the UK has fallen behind and now our younger generation are paying the price.

“Other nations have already either banned zero-hour contracts or heavily regulated their use, so we need to catch up and find a better balance between workplace security and flexibility.”

The Work Foundation warned of the potential long-term effects on the quality of jobs young workers may secure in future.

The research also indicated that black workers are 2.7 times more likely than white workers to be on zero-hour contracts and workers from multiple/mixed backgrounds are 2.3 times more likely than white workers to be on zero-hour contracts.

One in 10 young workers in the UK were on these contracts in 2023, said the report.

TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said: “Zero-hours contracts may be a dream for bad bosses, but they can be nightmare for the people on them.

“This report lays bare the huge financial insecurity workers on zero-hours contracts face.

“These one-sided contracts hand almost total control over hours and earning power to managers – making it nigh on impossible for workers to plan budgets and childcare.

“I would challenge any business leader or politician to try and survive on a zero-hours contract – not knowing how much money you’ll have from one week to the next.”

Corey Edwards, senior policy and public affairs manager at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) said: “The informality, instability and non-standard form of zero-hours contract work makes workers increasingly vulnerable in terms of both their physical and mental health.

“Constant uncertainty over the duration of employment, unpredictable working hours, vulnerability to violence and harassment, plus poor daily or weekly resting periods are some of the work-related issues experienced by workers employed under these arrangements.”