Key points

  • Job insecurity, as measured by the numbers making a new claim for Jobseeker’s Allowance who were last claiming this benefit less than six months previously, was at a record high in 2011 in terms of both absolute numbers (see the second graph) and as a proportion of all new Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants (see the first graph).
  • 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.
  • Most (four-fifths) of part-time employees do not want a full-time job.  By contrast, only a quarter of temporary employees do not want a permanent job. 1 2 This suggests that, whereas part-time employment is generally a positive choice, temporary employment is often not.
  • Although rising in recent years, the number of people in temporary contracts is – at 1.5 million – still somewhat lower than a decade ago, when the figure stood at 1.7 million.
  • 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 nine 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.

Why this indicator was originally chosen

Deregulation of the labour market has made it easier for employers both to take workers on and to lay them off.  If employers face few barriers or disincentives to take workers on, then the overall level of employment should increase as long as skill levels in the labour force meet employer demands.  However, employer flexibility also creates insecurity of employment for a large section of the workforce.  Frequent movements in and out of employment, indeed in and out of low-paid work, is the normal experience of many workers, predominantly those with below average skill levels.

The chosen indicator of work insecurity is ‘the proportion of people making a new claim for unemployment benefit who were last claiming less than six months ago.

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 losing work who have been in that work less than six months.  Figures are shown separately for men and women.  The data relates to Great Britain and, 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) and relates to the United Kingdom.  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

Relevant 2007 Public Service Agreements

None directly relevant.

The numbers

Graphs 1 and 2

Year All data is for the first quarter in the stated year
ProportionsNumbers (thousands)
Men Women Men Women
1990 37% 28% 186K 66K
1991 30% 24% 216K 72K
1992 35% 29% 250K 85K
1993 39% 31% 240K 83K
1994 43% 33% 263K 89K
1995 45% 34% 265K 84K
1996 43% 33% 244K 78K
1997 49% 38% 260K 83K
1998 48% 36% 242K 78K
1999 46% 36% 219K 68K
2000 46% 35% 200K 60K
2001 47% 35% 215K 62K
2002 44% 34% 201K 60K
2003 44% 34% 196K 61K
2004 45% 34% 188K 56K
2005 45% 34% 176K 54K
2006 44% 32% 169K 51K
200749% 36% 185K 58K
200847% 35% 189K 58K
200938% 28% 267K 81K
201052% 37% 275K 90K
201152% 35% 304K 108K

Graph 3

Reason Part-time employees Temporary employees
Could not find 17% 33%
Did not want 80% 24%
Other reasons 3% 43%

Graph 4

Year Temporary employees (thousands)
Male Female All
1997 800 970 1,770
1998 790 950 1,730
1999 780 900 1,680
2000 780 920 1,690
2001 750 890 1,640
2002 710 860 1,580
2003 690 820 1,510
2004 700 800 1,490
2005 660 750 1,410
2006 650 790 1,440
2007670 790 1,450
2008640 760 1,400
2009680 760 1,430
2010730 800 1,540

Graph 5

Hourly pay % membership
<£7 11%
£7 to £1023%
£10 to £15 37%
£15 to £20 40%
>£20 30%
1. Note that there are many more part-time employees than temporary employees.  So, the 15% of part-time employees who wanted, but could not find, a full-time job is, at 900,000 people, substantially greater than the 35% of temporary employees who wanted, but could not find, a permanent job (450,000 people). 
2. Also note that the use of three-year averages in the graph masks an increase during the current recession in the numbers who could not find full-time/permanent employment.  More specifically, the 2008-2010 average of 900,000 part-time employees who could not find a full-time job is the average of 700,000 in 2008, 900,000 in 2009 and 1,100,000 in 2010; and the 2008-2010 average of 450,000 temporary employees who could not find a permanent job is the average of 350,000 in 2008, 450,000 in 2009 and 550,000 in 2010.