Part-time Britain

Even though the Coalition has claimed that over 500 000 new private sector jobs have been created since it came to office, a large number, a majority in fact,  have been part-time. The monthly labour market figures from ONS regularly confirm the significance of part-time working in the UK economy. Figures for Dec 2011 -Feb 2012 (published this month) show there are now 7.8 million part-timers out of a workforce of 29.17 million – up by some 80 000 on the previous quarter. Even though unemployment may have fallen – the number of full-time jobs in the economy has also gone down – by 27000 over the last quarter

The economic downturn has intensified the trend towards part-time employment, but it’s  not the cause of it – instead it’s the result of major changes in the importance of different economic sectors as well as the changing context of ‘retailing’ (the largest employer of part-time workers) for example.  So, between 1984 and 1999, for example over 1.5 million part-time jobs were created and the proportion of working part-time increased from 21% t0 25%.

While part-time working suits many adults (three quarters of part-time workers are women) surveys continue to show that it’s part-time work that is the worst paid.  The downturn has also seen the number of those having to work part-time, because they can’t find full-time employment, increase significantly, however.  The  Dec-Feb data showing 1.4 million (18%) of all part-time workers in this category; up by 4% during the year. If this is the highest ever recorded and much higher than in previous downturns, then amongst nearly 1.6 million ‘temporary’ workers, just under  40% also report  they can’t find permanent work. 

According to an analysis of 112 000 Jobcentre Plus vacancies 24% did not offer enough hours to qualify for family tax credits (www.Guardian.co.uk/society/2012/apr/08/tax-credit-rules-families-benefits-trap/ )  More than 2000 of these jobs were ‘as and when’ in otherwords with ‘flexible’ contracts offering no regular hours. More still were classified as ‘self employed’ – sub contracted work with no guaranteed income or hours.  Meanwhile, David Cameron hailed the decision by Tesco (the largest employer of part-time labour) to create 20 000 more jobs as a ‘massive confidence boost’ for the UK economy. (www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/retailandconsumer/9122605/Tesco-to-create-20000-jobs-in-UK-fight-back.html)

Of course, many young people (over a million) continue to work part-time while they study; but students now increasingly find themselves in competition with people who have ‘experience’– though the number of full-time students has increased rapidly, they only make up 13% of all part-time workers. If April’s figures also show a marginal fall in UK youth unemployment, according to the European Commission (Guardian 17/04/12) almost half of young people in work do not have permanent positions – while  a 2010 report by the International Labour Organisation (www.ila.org.publns) has already  argued  that the significant increases in part-time working amongst Europe’s young is because for many, this is now the only work available. 

 Martin Allen

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