Recent analysis conducted by the Work Foundation at Lancaster University underscores a concerning trend in the UK labour market, revealing a significant rise in the prevalence of zero-hours contracts, particularly among young workers.

The report indicates a stark increase in the number of workers on zero-hours contracts, with 136,000 more individuals entering such arrangements in 2023 compared to the previous year. Alarmingly, 65% of these new contracts were offered to individuals aged 16–24, reflecting a growing reliance on precarious employment among young people.

Addressing Worker Insecurity

While zero-hours contracts were once hailed as a solution for flexible work, the analysis suggests that these arrangements often leave workers vulnerable and lacking in job security. A mere 6.1% of the 1.1 million individuals on zero-hours contracts in the UK enjoy stable employment with regular income and access to rights, highlighting the urgent need for reform.

Alice Martin, Head of Research at the Work Foundation, emphasised the disproportionate impact of zero-hours contracts on certain demographic groups, particularly young workers and individuals from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds. These workers face heightened levels of precarity, with far-reaching implications for their future job prospects and financial stability.

Challenges Faced by Young Workers

Of particular concern is the steep rise in zero-hours contracts among young people, with an additional 88,000 individuals aged 16–24 entering such arrangements in 2023. This surge raises apprehensions about the quality of jobs available to young workers and their long-term career trajectories, especially amid a record number of workers currently on sick leave.

The report also highlights disparities in contract types based on race and gender, with Black workers and women being disproportionately represented among zero-hours contract holders.

Proposed Solutions and Recommendations

In response to these findings, the Work Foundation proposes a series of recommendations aimed at safeguarding workers’ rights and enhancing job security. Suggestions include granting employees the right to request guaranteed contractual hours, providing adequate notice periods for shift scheduling, and increasing transparency in employment practices through annual reporting requirements for large employers.

Alice Martin underscores the importance of empowering workers and instituting reforms to address the systemic issues contributing to job insecurity. By implementing these recommendations, the UK can move towards a more equitable and resilient labour market, ensuring better outcomes for workers across the board.