Part-time workers reach record high during recession, official figures show

The number of people forced to work part-time or become self-employed because of the recession has reached a record high, official figures have revealed.

Data released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) today also found the number of inactive people of working age continued to increase and reached a record high of 8.08 million.

The ONS figures show in the three months to December 2009 there were 1.04 million employees and self-employed people working part-time because they could not find a full-time job. This represented an increase of 37,000 on the previous quarter and is the highest figure since records began in 1992.

In total, the number of people in part-time employment increased by 25,000 on the quarter to reach 7.67 million.

Other ONS stats

  • The number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance increased by 23,500 on December’s figures to 1.64 million – the largest increase since July last year.

  • The number of people unemployed for more than 12 months increased by 37,000 over the quarter to reach 663,000 – the highest figure since the three months to September 1997.

  • The number of 16 to 24-year-olds out of work dipped slightly over the three-month period between October and December, from 936,000 to 923,000.

Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, warned part-time worker figures masked the true extent of the impact of the downturn on job availability and made the market look “deceptively healthy”.

He said: “The TUC is concerned that job statistics could be making the market look deceptively healthy – a closer look suggests that thousands of people are taking part-time or temporary jobs because they cannot secure full-time positions. A growth in insecure and low-paid employment at the expense of secure work is not good news for them or for the economy.”

Official figures found unemployment fell by 3,000 to 2.46 million in the three months to December and the unemployment rate remained at 7.8%.

However, the figures also revealed that working-age inactivity hit an all time high in December.

The number of inactive working-age people shot up by 72,000 in the three months to December, while the inactive rate for the same period was 21.3%, up 0.2% on the previous quarter.

The ONS said this increase in inactivity was largely driven by a 62,000 rise in the number of students not in the labour market – to 2.26 million students – the highest level since comparable records began in 1993.

Ian Brinkley, an associate director at think-tank The Work Foundation, told Personnel Today inactivity could be seen as “a measure of hidden unemployment” as people withdraw from the labour market. He said this was “a typical reaction when jobs are scarce”.

He called on the government to extend the Job Guarantee scheme – which currently covers all those aged 18-25 who have been unemployed for six months or more – to all those who have been unemployed for 12 months or more to stop them disassociating with the workplace.

Brinkley warned: “When people come off courses, the [unemployment] figures could go up again. We will see [unemployment rates] go up over the summer because of seasonal reasons, but the real danger is those high levels don’t fall back down again in the autumn when we would expect it to.”

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