Press release:

Millions of UK people in work can’t pay an unexpected £300 bill, new study finds

Monday 13 November 2023
  • New research from the Work Foundation at Lancaster University and the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) finds one in three workers in insecure work (30%) expect to lose their jobs in the next 12 months.
  • Almost half of workers in insecure jobs (49%) cannot personally pay an unexpected bill of £300 if it were due within the next seven days.
  • Almost three in five (57%) of the insecure workers surveyed want more predictable hours.
  • One in five (22%) of workers who have spoken to their manager about more predictable hours did not get them.
  • Three out of four managers said they want to give predictable hours to workers struggling with caring responsibilities, health issues or to boost wellbeing but almost half (46%) say setting staff rotas is not within their power.
  • The findings come as the number of people in insecure work is expected to surge with firms rushing to recruit seasonal workers ahead of Christmas.
  • The Work Foundation and CMI have called on the UK Government, local authorities, and organisations to take bolder action, including improving management practice and introducing new employment laws.

Millions of Brits in insecure work are living in fear that they will lose their jobs and that an unexpected bill could put them in the red, according to a new in-depth analysis from the Work Foundation at Lancaster University and the Chartered Management Institute (CMI).

The new research, which polled 3,000 workers in insecure work and 1,000 UK managers, found that approximately one in three workers in insecure work (30%) expect to lose their jobs in the next 12 months, and almost (49%) couldn’t personally pay an unexpected bill of £300 if it was due within the next seven days.

It comes just as firms across the UK rush to recruit seasonal workers ahead of the holiday season, potentially swelling the numbers of working people affected by the realities of precarious, insecure work.

Just under one in five UK workers—6.2 million—are now in “insecure jobs,” defined as low pay, temporary or part-time roles with contractual insecurity and very limited access to workers’ rights. These roles are particularly prominent in the hospitality, agriculture, and transport sectors. The analysis shows that women, young people, ethnic minority workers, and disabled workers are also disproportionately likely to be in an insecure job.

Facing unpredictable work patterns amid a cost-of-living crisis, the research reveals the challenges facing those in insecure work. Over one in three (34%) workers reported having at least one of their shifts cancelled with less than two days’ notice in the past month. Worryingly, half of workers surveyed (51%) say their mental wellbeing is affected by sudden changes to their work, schedule, or weekly hours.

The research finds workers and managers are crying out for more autonomy. Almost three in five (57%) of the insecure workers surveyed want more predictable hours, and that one in five respondents (21%) have spoken to their manager about the issue without success. Managers surveyed reported that they are often not in a position to resolve issues with working hours, with nearly half (46%) stating that others set their teams’ hours.

Interestingly, the analysis also found that managers in insecure work settings often face the same challenges as their colleagues. Half of the managers we spoke to expressed a desire for more predictable hours, and almost one in ten (8%) expected to lose their job in the next 12 months.

Managers can play a significant role in providing their colleagues with the right balance of stability, predictable hours, and flexibility - and the new findings suggest this is something UK managers want to do. Around three-quarters of managers surveyed said they would be willing to provide more flexible working arrangements to a direct report who requested them due to caring responsibilities (74%), personal well being (73%), or for disability or health reasons (77%).

Over the last few years, the Commons has implemented critical legislation to help address some of these problems. Theresa May’s 2018 Good Work Plan introduced necessary workplace reforms, including the right to a payslip for all workers. The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act, brought forward by the Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi this year, means that employees will now be entitled to request flexible working arrangements from day one in their job. The Conservative MP Virginia Crosbie’s Bill to require hospitality businesses to 'fairly' allocate 100% of tips to workers also received Royal Assent this year.

Yet, the Work Foundation and Chartered Management Institute have argued that while individual policy changes are essential, this pick-and-mix approach to insecure work needs to look at the bigger picture, and the scale of the challenge requires bolder ambition.

The new report from the two organisations —Managing Insecurity: The role of good management — makes several policy recommendations, including supporting the improvement of management practices across sectors. Key recommendations include:

  • Supporting the development of management capability in providing secure and predictable working arrangements, including a focus on SMEs who may lack in-house resources and capabilities to undertake this work.
  • Building on programmes of support for managers such as the apprenticeship scheme and Help to Grow: Management to ensure inclusive practice is emphasised within existing training for supervisors and managers.
  • Introducing new employment laws and regulations to strengthen labour rights and contractual security to all workers.
  • Building management capability into local/ regional skills programmes for sectors where insecure work is prevalent.

In response to the report, Daisy Hooper, the Chartered Management Institute’s Head of Policy, said:

The scale of insecure work in the UK isn’t just a setback for workers, it’s a central problem for businesses and the wider economy as we continue to waste talent, just when we need it most. With one in five of our workforce in insecure jobs, often without a free choice, it’s little surprise that the UK faces low productivity and stagnant growth.

Managers have a critical role in supporting employees in insecure work by defending workers’ contractual security, increasing their team’s autonomy at work, prioritising flexible working options, relentlessly developing their teams and better understanding ways to improve job satisfaction. Yet, fundamentally, managers can only do what’s in their gift to improve the situation- and we can see that managers themselves feel constrained to do what’s right. So there is an even more significant role for employers and the Government to encourage and expect them to do the right thing.

As we head into the next election, it’s time for a united effort from employers and the main political parties to prioritise secure jobs, empower workers, and foster a culture of inclusivity and fairness that truly makes work pay.

Ben Harrison, Director of the Work Foundation at Lancaster University, commented: 

This new analysis brings into focus the precarity facing millions of UK workers in insecure jobs as we head towards winter, with many living in fear of losing their job and half unable to meet unexpected costs such as food and energy bills. Workers in more secure employment are better able to weather economic turbulence, but this isn’t the case for the millions of workers in this country trapped in severely insecure work. They are already struggling, and it isn’t just impacting on their pockets – it’s affecting their mental health, too. We urgently need to see Government action to curtail insecure work and strengthen employment rights and protections to give these people more security.

But we also need to see more support for managers in these circumstances too. The choices managers make – whether it is providing flexible working options, offering predictable shift patterns, or providing support in relation to financial wellbeing – can have a massive impact on workers’ experience of insecure jobs – even helping to mitigating some of the worst aspects of it.

So alongside legislative change to boost job security, we also need a renewed focus on building management capability across the country, especially in those sectors where insecure work is most prevalent such as hospitality and care.


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Notes to editors

  • The survey is based on 20 questions with 1,000 line managers and 20 questions with 3,000 insecure workers.