Key points

  • Throughout most of the last decade, almost half of the men, and a third of the women, making a new claim for Jobseeker’s Allowance were last claiming this benefit less than six months previously.  In other words, almost half of men who lose their job, and a third of women, had had that job for less than six months.  This shows the short-term nature of the jobs that many unemployed people go into.
  • Note that, although these proportion have remained similar throughout the decade (see first graph), the absolute numbers of people making a new claim for Jobseeker’s Allowance who were last claiming this benefit less than six months fell substantially between 2002 and 2008 before rising sharply in 2009, 2010 and 2011 (see second graph).
  • The vast majority of part-time employees – 80% – do not want a full-time job.  By contrast, only 25% of temporary employees do not want a permanent job.  This suggests that, whereas part-time employment is generally a positive choice, temporary employment is often not.
  • Most (four-fifths) of part-time employees do not want a full-time job.  By contrast, only a fifth of temporary employees do not want a permanent job.  This suggests that, whereas part-time employment is generally a positive choice, temporary employment is often not.1
  • Although rising in recent years, the number of people in temporary contracts is – at 130,000 – still lower than a decade ago.
  • The proportion of workers belonging to a trade union is much lower among low-paid employees than among any other pay group.  Only one in six workers earning less than £7 an hour belong to a trade union compared with around two-fifths of those earning £10 to £20 an hour.

Definitions and data sources

The first graph tackles insecurity at work through the issue of people who find themselves taking a succession of jobs interspersed with periods of unemployment.  It shows the probability that someone who makes a new claim for Jobseeker’s Allowance was last claiming that benefit less than six months previously.  This is effectively the same as the proportion of people finding work who then lose that work within six months.  Figures are shown separately for men and women.  The data for each year is taken from the first quarter of the Joint Unemployment and Vacancies Operating System (JUVOS) cohort (the data is not publicly available).

The second graph shows the same data but as actual numbers rather than as a proportion of new claimants for Jobseeker’s Allowance.  In times of reasonably constant unemployment, this graph would not add much value but it does provide extra information at a time of rising unemployment (as is the case in 2009).  So, for example, the proportions in the first graph fell significantly in 2009 but, as the second graph shows, this is not because the numerator (i.e. the numbers in the second graph) fell but because the denominator (i.e. the total number of new claims for Jobseeker’s Allowance) rose.

The third graph shows the principal reasons that working-age people give for taking part-time work or temporary work.  In each case, the main point of interest is those taking these forms of work who would prefer, respectively, full-time or permanent work.  Note that students are excluded from the analysis of part-time work.

The fourth graph shows the number of temporary workers who are of working age.  A temporary employee is one who said that his/her main job is non-permanent in one of the following ways: fixed period contracts; agency temping; casual work; seasonal work; and other temporary work.

The fifth graph shows the proportion of people currently employed who are members of a trade union or staff association, with the data shown separately by level of pay.

The data source for the third to fifth graphs is the Labour Force Survey (LFS).  In the third and fourth graphs, the data is the average for the latest three years.  The figures in the fifth graph are for the fourth quarter of the latest year (the data is only collected in the fourth quarter).

Overall adequacy of the indicator: medium.  While the claimant count data is sound, the narrow definition of unemployment that it represents means that it understates the extent of short-term working interspersed with spells of joblessness.

External links

See the Joseph Rowntree Foundation ‘findings’ on job insecurity and pathways through unemployment.

1. Note that the use of three-year averages in the graph masks an increase during the current recession in the number of part-time employees who wanted, but could not find, full-time employment.