Four million people are ‘uncertain’ about their income


Employers have been urged to think carefully about the nature of the contracts they use, after research revealed that more than four million people in England and Wales have “uncertain” pay packets.

Citizens Advice analysis of Office for National Statistics data from 2015 found that 2.3 million people were working variable shift patterns. Just under half as many (1.1 million) were on temporary contracts and 800,000 were on zero-hours or agency deals.

The charity said such “insecure work” made it hard for people to budget and plan their personal finances, as well as hitting productivity and loyalty at work.

Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: “Income security is the overlooked piece of the labour market puzzle.

“While for some people, working shifts or temporary contracts may provide the flexibility they want, many others struggle to balance the books in the face of such insecure employment.

“Having a steady, reliable income is fundamental to how secure people feel and is key if the government wants to achieve its ambition of a high-wage, low-welfare economy. Offering people a secure income is also in the interest of employers, as it boosts staff morale and productivity.”

A poll of more than 1,000 people carried out for Citizens Advice found that more rated steady income as ‘very important’ in a job hunt than any other factor, including location and level of pay.

Four in five of those questioned said a steady income increased productivity, with a similar proportion saying it increased their loyalty to their employer.

The charity said it helped one 22-year-old woman who worked between 12 and 50 hours each week.

“Not having set hours was really difficult as some weeks I did not have enough money to cover my bills or rent,” she told Citizens Advice. “I never knew how much money I would have so I could never budget or plan ahead.”

The prevalence of zero-hours contracts has also been a key feature of the ongoing debate aboutworking conditions at Sports Direct.

But recent CIPD research into such contracts suggests those working on them are actually happier than the rest of the workforce. And People Management reported last year on the changing nature of employment relationships across the UK, with experts suggesting that the degree of control employees had over their hours and working conditions was more important than the nature of the employment itself.

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, said some people benefitted from the opportunity to work in flexible roles, but the key was to offer genuine choice.

“A significant proportion of people in atypical employment choose it,” he said. “They may be students, carers or older workers.

“The downside is that if you are doing it because it’s the only type of employment you can get then it’s not good for your happiness.

“The UK market strikes a reasonable balance between flexibility for employers and protection for individuals, but finding the perfect balance is difficult.”

Willmott pointed to research from King’s College London 10 years ago, in which workers on temporary contracts reported better wellbeing, better general health, more positive attitudes towards work and better work behaviour than their permanent counterparts.

“Employers need to think carefully about why they need flexibility and how best to deliver it,” he added. “It works best when there is a lot of choice and autonomy and individuals can work when they want.”


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