Number of people forced into part-time roles highest since records began

The number of people working part time because they cannot find a full-time job has reached the highest level since comparable records began 20 years ago, according to data released today by the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

In the three months to December 2011, the number of people taking part-time roles due to the lack of full-time work rose by 83,000 compared with the previous quarter, bringing the total number to 1.35 million.

Despite a 0.1 percentage point rise in the number of people in employment over the quarter, the ONS stated that this was mainly due to an increase of 90,000 in the number of people working part-time.

While employment rose by 60,000 over the quarter, unemployment rose by 48,000 and the number of economically inactive people fell by 78,000.

Women were hit particularly hard by the rise in unemployment, making up two-thirds (32,000) of the total increase in those out of work. The number of unemployed people aged between 16 and 24 also rose again – by 22,000 – to reach 1.04 million.

David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said that the figures were better than expected in the face of “challenging economic circumstances”.

“Although the increase in employment was stronger than expected, there is a slight cause for concern,” Kern commented. “The number of full-time employees fell, and the increase in employment was mainly due to a rise in part-time workers. The high level of youth unemployment, which remains above one million, is also worrying, even though the total figure includes more than 300,000 people in full-time education who are looking for work.

“Businesses are ready to do their bit, and the Youth Contract will provide a much-needed jobs boost for the young. But the Government must ensure the scheme works effectively, and further steps should be taken to incentivise businesses to hire young people.”

Yesterday, the TUC stated that if an American measure of unemployment, which counts “under-employed workers”, were used in the UK then the unemployment figure would actually stand at 6.3 million, more than double the number released by the ONS today.

Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary, commented: “The headline unemployment figures are bad enough, but the true scale of joblessness is even worse. Over six million people are either out of work or under-employed. Tackling this crisis should be the Government’s number one priority.

“Our jobs crisis is not confined to those out of work. Nearly two million people are being forced to take low-paid, insecure, short-hours jobs because of the lack of proper, full-time employment. This means people are taking home much less pay, which is putting a real strain on family budgets.”

However, Kevin Green, chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, argued that part-time work is better than no work.

“Increased flexibility in terms of working patterns is likely to be one of the lasting legacies of the economic downturn. Of course it is frustrating for people to be in part-time work if they are after a full-time role, but some work has to be better than no work.

“People in part-time work can avoid falling into the benefits trap by earning an income, keeping their skills fresh and making themselves more attractive to potential employers for when the right job comes along. People working flexibly is good news for them and the economy.”

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