Six Million Face Cost of Living Crisis in Insecure Jobs, with Health and Social Care Workers Worst Affected

  • More than 6 million UK workers are in insecure work, with 3.4 million who are in both low paid insecure jobs
  • The majority (59%) of all shift workers have received less than a week’s notice of their working hours, with one in ten (13%) being given less than 24 hours’ notice
  • A quarter (24%) of shift workers have had shifts cancelled unexpectedly by their employer, the vast majority of which (90%) are not compensated at their full rate of pay
  • Nearly one-quarter (22%) have been forced to increase their reliance on credit or debt as a result
  • Health and Social Care workers are worst affected – with nearly 900,000 workers including carers, support workers and some NHS staff in insecure jobs, more than any other sector
  • Living Wage Foundation scheme to tackle insecure work gathers pace as number of ‘Living Hours’ employers committed to providing secure, reliable working hours approaches 100

Insecure employment is widespread in the UK labour market and costly to workers grappling with the cost-of-living crisis, according to new research by the Living Wage Foundation. One in five UK workers (19%) are in insecure jobs, while one in ten (10%) are in insecure jobs that also pay below the real Living Wage. The figures represent 6.1 million and 3.4 million people respectively.  

The report reveals that Health and Social Care Workers are worst affected, with 878,000 workers face high inflation in insecure health and social work jobs that are costly to their finances, new Living Wage Foundation research reveals. Health and social work holds more insecure jobs than any other sector. In total, the study found a fifth of UK workers (6.1 million people) are in insecure jobs, meaning that 1 in 7 insecure jobs are in the health and social work sector. Other sectors with a high volume of insecure work are ‘Wholesale and Retail’ (782,000), ‘Accommodation and Food services’ (527,000) and Education (503,000).

A survey of over 2,000 UK adults interviewed by Survation also found that workers are commonly exposed to extremely short notice for shifts. Among the 57% of UK workers whose job involves variable hours or shift work, well over half (59%) have been called into work with less than a week’s notice. At the extreme, 13% of this group had less than 24 hours’ notice.  

The research addresses key gaps in the UK’s labour market data by examining shift notice periods, cancellations, and their consequences, highlighting the extreme precariousness of many jobs amidst the ongoing cost of living crisis. Data was also taken from the Labour Force Survey and Family Resource Surveys. 

Not only are workers throughout the UK frequently required to work at short notice, but the polling also found that a quarter (24%) have had their shifts cancelled unexpectedly. The vast majority of cancellations are not compensated properly, with 90% receiving less than their full payment, and over a quarter (26%) receiving no payment at all. This means when shifts are cancelled, workers are almost twice as likely to receive no payment as they are to receive their regular pay. 

In addition to facing the cost of living crisis, the research found that 33% of shift workers face higher costs as a result of cancelled or last minute shift patterns – an ‘insecurity premium’. These costs can add to more than £50 a month (£600+ a year), which was the case for almost a fifth (17%) of workers experiencing the premium. 

  • Over a quarter (27%) of workers who have experienced short shift notice periods or shift cancellations incurred higher travel costs as a result; 
  • As interest rates continue to rise, nearly a quarter (22%) have been forced to increase their reliance on credit or debt as a result of their unpredictable income; 
  • A fifth (17%) have had to pay higher childcare costs. 

The study found that workers who are most affected by insecurity are those least well placed to manage its financial burdens. The polling found that low paid workers – including cleaners, couriers and some NHS staff – were five times more likely to be in insecure jobs than those earning at or above the real Living Wage (55% vs 11%). 

Insecure work is not spread equally between workers. Minority ethnic workers are more likely to be in low paid insecure work than white workers (13% vs 10%). Women are substantially more likely than men to be on zero hours contracts despite being employed in insecure jobs at a relatively similar rate, with 55% of zero hour contracts held by women.  

The Living Wage Foundation’s movement to challenge the UK’s culture of precarious employment is gathering pace, with the number of accredited Living Hours employers approaching 100. Early adopters include major employers such as Aviva, SpareRoom and Wealthify. Nearly 50,000 UK workers are now covered by Living Hours measures.  

Living Hours sees employers commit to providing at least 4 weeks’ notice for every shift, with guaranteed payment if shifts are cancelled within this notice period. Living Hours employers also provide a guaranteed minimum of 16 working hours every week (unless the worker requests fewer), and a contract that accurately reflects hours worked. This commitment extends to regular third-party contractors.   

Katherine Chapman, Director of the Living Wage Foundation, said: “Soaring prices have rightly shone a spotlight on pay this past year, but this research makes clear that reliable working hours are as vital to workers’ financial resilience as a real Living Wage. It is shocking that 3.4 million workers are facing the cost-of-living crisis in low paying jobs with unstable working hours, making planning a life and a budget impossible.  

“The extent of low pay and insecure work in health and social work is particularly alarming. The sector holds some of the most important jobs to our society yet they are also the most precarious and poorly paid jobs in the UK labour market. With one in five health and social care workers routinely experiencing low pay and insecure work, something needs to change.

“That is why we’re calling on employers to join those who have already stepped up during this crisis and commit to provide workers with Living Hours - secure, guaranteed hours and notice of shift patterns - alongside a real Living Wage. Action is required by both employer and the government to make this a reality in health and social care but it’s an investment that will benefit care workers and their families and is vital for the sector and wider society as our need for care continues to grow.” 

Louise Woodruff, Senior Policy Adviser at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “Reliable hours and a real Living Wage are the foundations of good employment, making it truly shocking that this report reveals millions of people are navigating the cost-of-living crisis in low-paid, insecure jobs. It’s clear we cannot beat in-work poverty without profound changes in the UK labour market; the Living Wage Foundation’s Living Hours scheme provides employers with the framework to lead us towards a future of stable employment and decent pay: of dignity for all.” 

Kirsty Lunn, Creative Director of Molke, an accredited Living Hours employer, said: “The figures cited in this report are saddening to read. With so many people still working in insecure jobs without fair pay and regular hours, they are essentially unable to plan or navigate the difficult financial climate. Offering people stability, visibility and fair pay should be the minimum people can expect from a business. We feel it’s vital to our success that our staff feel valued, secure in their employment and can bring the best of themselves to their work.” 

Jennifer Clarke, Design and Marketing Assistant at Molke, said: “Before working at Molke, I was in a zero hours contract. At first I thought the flexibility would be beneficial but in reality it was very precarious and I would be asked at a moments notice to work. As staff, we were never fully clear about our rights and it was an unsustainable for us way to make a living. The security and clarity I get working at Molke has made my life a lot easier. I can make plans with the knowledge they won’t be interrupted and I know exactly what money is coming in each month.” 

Mike Vaughan, Managing Director of accredited Living Hours employer Red Rocks Nursing Home, said: “The health and social care sector has lost many, many highly experienced staff to other areas of the economy, often because they can earn more money in other roles but also because many have a feeling of being undervalued and under-appreciated. With a demonstrably ageing population, we cannot allow this to continue. It is vital we retain these essential key workers within the industry and provide them with a fair and appropriate wage commensurate with their professionalism, kindness and dedication. 

“Not only are we at Red Rocks Nursing home a Living Wage Accredited Employer, but we also are accredited as a Living Hours Employer. We never use zero hours contracts. Everyone receives their working rotas well in advance for the following month. Everyone is provided with a contract as soon as they start, and everyone knows we are receptive when the need may arise to discuss changes to their rota and if/when their personal or family circumstances change. This ensures staff feel safe, content, valued and respected, which in turn provides us all with a fantastic work and living environment which residents and our team can enjoy.” 

Edel Anabwani, a care worker, said: “Insecure employment and zero-hours contracts are rife in social care, offering flexibility for the employer and instability for the worker. As a health and social care worker employed on a zero-hours contract, you live on the edge, waking up each morning not knowing if a shift cancellation notification awaits, or if your shift is still maintained. Your life is planned week to week, from hand to mouth as shifts are not assured. Care workers, like all workers, need real stability and security before statements about the valuable role we play in society can be truly and genuinely made.” 

Read the report here.

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