Measuring labour market insecurity in the UK

Profile picture of Aman Navani

Aman Navani, Analyst at the Work Foundation, presents findings from the UK Insecure Work Index 2024.

The Work Foundation mission

The Work Foundation at Lancaster University is a think tank dedicated to improving working lives in the UK. Our core mission is to widen access to rewarding, high-quality and secure work. We undertake applied quantitative and qualitative research to tackle structural inequalities in the UK labour market and seek to influence government policy and employer practice.

The UK Insecure Work Index

The UK Insecure Work Index is our flagship measure that enables us to analyse the prevalence of insecure work across sectors and marginalised worker groups. Insecure work can take many different forms. Our Index comprises of three dimensions of insecurity: contractual, financial and rights insecurity. We identify several job characteristics of each dimension of insecurity from the Office of National Statistics’ Quarterly Labour Force Survey across two decades (2000-2021) and update the Index annually.

A diagram showing job characteristics of each dimension of insecurity from the Office of National Statistics’ Quarterly Labour Force Survey across two decades (2000-2021). The three dimensions are: contractual, financial and workers rights, and each dimension has 3-4 characteristics listed.

Source: Florisson, R. (2022). The Insecure Work Index: Two decades of insecurity. Work Foundation, Lancaster University – see this page for an accessible table version of this figure

Workers face contractual insecurity if they are on contracts that do not specify or guarantee future work or hours. These contracts include temporary or part-time work, zero hours or on-call work. Financial insecurity refers to jobs that provide variable or inadequate income. Workers experience financial insecurity if they are in low-paid work (defined as less than 60% of the median hourly pay for employees and less than 80% of the median hourly pay for self-employed workers), have a second job or are underemployed (i.e. would like to work more hours).

Rights insecurity captures the limited rights and protections that insecure workers have relative to workers with full-time, permanent jobs. An individual’s employment status has implications for their access to employment rights and protections. Self-employed workers, agency workers or anyone classed as a “worker” instead of an “employee” do not have access to maternity or paternity leave and pay, holiday pay, redundancy pay or any protection against unfair dismissal and unfair deductions from pay.

The severity of insecure work

Our Index also factors in that many of these forms of insecurity intersect and compound the overall level of insecurity that workers face. Using principal component analysis, relatively more weight is attached to job characteristics that are strongly correlated with other characteristics of insecure work. For example, involuntary part-time work and low pay are weighted more heavily than other features of insecure work such as having a second job. Therefore, the Index allows us not only to analyse how widespread insecurity is but also to measure the severity of insecurity that workers face.

We classify workers into three categories based on the level of job insecurity they experience:

  • secure (no indicators of insecurity)
  • low to moderately insecure (one or several lower weighted forms of insecurity)
  • severely insecure

Workers experiencing involuntary part-time and involuntary temporary forms of work, or a combination of two or more heavily weighted forms of insecurity are classed as severely insecure.

Creating the UK Insecure Work Index has enabled us to highlight which worker groups, sectors of the economy, and regions in the UK are most exposed to the risk of severely insecurely work. Our Index 2024 report is an updated outlook on the state of insecure work in the UK.

In 2023, an estimated 6.8 million (21.4%) of UK workers experienced severe insecurity.

We find that women are 2.3 times more likely than men to experience severely insecure work while more than one in four (28%) disabled workers are in severely insecure work compared to 20% of non-disabled workers. We also find that on average, individuals in severely insecure work face a financial penalty of £3,276 per year. The evidence from our Index Report 2024 highlights the urgency of expanding access to high quality, secure employment.

We call on the next Government to introduce an Employment Bill that standardises employment status to ensure all workers have access to key employment rights and protections. We also recommend that the next Government establishes an Independent Review that looks at the risk associated with pushing those who are out of work into low quality and insecure jobs.

Note: This Technical Annex provides a more in-depth exploration of how the Index was constructed.  

About the author

Aman Navani is an Analyst at the Work Foundation where he contributes to the insecure work research strand. Previously, he worked at the Centre for Cities and Innovations for Poverty Action. He completed an MA in Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences at Columbia University where he researched the political consequences of labour market inequality.

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