Catch-up call

Record young workers on zero-hour contracts

The Work Foundation has called for the UK to ‘catch up’ (pic: Work Foundation)

Britain now has a record number of young workers on zero-hour contracts, according to new research by the Work Foundation.

Its analysis suggests 136,000 more workers were given zero-hour contracts in 2023 compared to 2022, and 65% of these new contracts were handed to 16–24 year olds (88,000).

The researchers say workers of all ages should have a right to guaranteed hours and more predictable shift patterns, while being able to opt in to zero-hour contracts only if workers themselves specifically request them.  

While zero-hour contracts have previously been heralded as the solution to flexible work, the Work Foundation reveals only a tiny minority of zero-hour workers experience regular pay and access to rights.

The new data suggests three in four (73.5%) of the record 1.1 million people (aged 16-65) currently on zero-hour contracts in the UK are in severely insecure work, meaning they face contractual and financial insecurity, and a lack of access to rights and protections. Only 6.1% are in secure employment, with a regular income and access to rights. 

Alice Martin, Head of Research at the Work Foundation at Lancaster University, said: “Zero-hour contracts have previously been hailed the answer to flexible work, but our research shows too often it is only employers that have choices, workers do not.  

“The data shows these contracts affect certain workers more than others, and it is young workers – particularly young women – who are bearing the brunt of policy-makers inaction.”  

The research found that black workers are 2.7 times more likely than white workers to be on zero-hour contracts and workers from multiple/mixed backgrounds are 2.3 times more likely than white workers to be on zero-hour contracts

Women are 1.2 times more likely to be on zero-hour contracts than men.

Ms Martin added: “After a decade of indecision over zero-hour contracts, the UK has fallen behind and now our younger generation are paying the price. Other nations have already either banned zero-hour contracts or heavily regulated their use, so we need to catch up and find a better balance between workplace security and flexibility.”

The Labour Party has pledged to abolish zero-hour contracts.

The policy brief ‘Zero Choices: Swapping zero-hour contracts for secure, flexible working’ is published on the Work Foundation website:  

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