Insecure work at a time of financial instability

A new report looks at the stress associated with working in insecure jobs at a time of increasing worries about redundancy and financial instability.

Close up of a barista finishing off a cappucino


Job and financial insecurity go hand in hand. While many in work are struggling financially with the after-effects of inflation and interest rate rises, the prospect of more redundancies over the next months is even more worrying.

Every week almost every day, at the moment redundancies are being announced across the country. Many business owners are being very cautious about the path ahead and hoping that they can make it to 2024 and some form of recovery. Those in insecure work are particularly affected.

New research from the Work Foundation at Lancaster University and the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) finds one in three workers in insecure work (30%) expect to lose their jobs in the next 12 months.

Despite that worry for those in work finances are dire – almost half cannot personally pay an unexpected bill of £300 if it were due within the next seven days.

For many getting more predictable hours would help them, but 22% who have asked their manager for greater predictability haven’t got it. Line managers are sympathetic, according to the study, particularly for those with caring responsibilities, but tend not to be in control of staff rota – as well as being affected themselves by unpredictable hours and job insecurity.

Sudden cancellations of shifts are a big problem – over a third had had their shifts cancelled with less than two days’ notice in the past month, causing a lot of additional stress.

Considerable work was done on job insecurity by Matthew Taylor’s review focused on what makes good work. This was due to be passed in an Employment Bill, but that Bill has never come before Parliament. Instead bits of it have been put forward as Private Members’ Bills. The Work Foundation and Chartered Management Institute say this’ pick-and-mix approach’ to insecure work needs to look at the bigger picture and that the scale of the challenge requires bolder ambition.

They have put forward a series of recommendations, including supporting the development of management’s ability to provide more predictable hours and introducing new legislation to strengthen labour rights and contractual security to all workers.

Due to various benefits changes over the last decade, unemployment is a scarier prospect these days than it was in the past. I spoke last week to a woman who lost her job due to arthritis. She is cutting back on food and heating, which is impacting her arthritis, but needs to get back to work because she is worried about the long-term impact of such reduced income on her health. “If I don’t I will die of malnutrition or hypothermia,” she said half jokingly.

The safety net has been whittled away while we had good employment figures. That is changing. Many in work are suffering too, due to low levels of benefits and unpredictability of income. My daughter has worked in several zero hours jobs. In all of them her schedule has only been announced a few days in advance. I ask her continually when she is working so I can plan for drop-offs in the morning and she never seems to know. Often the starting hour varies and she only seems to get told on the day. If she was reliant on those hours for childcare or for income for the rent, as many are, it would be a constant source of stress.

We’ve seen some of the safety issues linked to very young and vulnerable workforces in the last week. Because they often live at home and/or are studying on the side, they can also be more open to poor practice. If employers offered the possibility of more predictable hours, perhaps they could attract a more multigenerational workforce which could bring  better conditions for all.

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