Socialist Worker

Epidemic of underemployment

Issue No. 2211

The true cost of the recession for workers’ living standards is being hidden by an explosion of part-time work.

Unemployment remains steady at around 2.5 million, but official figures released last week showed the part-time workforce soared by a further 148,000 in the three months to the end of May. It stands at 7,800,000.

More than one in four workers in Britain are now part-time. The number of temporary workers is also up 78,000 to 1.5 million.

There is an epidemic of what’s called “underemployment” where people want to work more hours (in reality they want to earn more) but can’t.

The large majority of workers are still full-time and in permanent posts. The working class still has tremendous potential power.

But hundreds of thousands of working people have seen catastrophic cuts in their living standards as bosses cut their hours—and their pay.

Some people, especially women, “choose” part-time work to fit in with childcare or similar reasons. But many have no choice at all.

A recent official study by Helen Tam for the Office of National Statistics shows there are nearly 3.5 million people already in Britain who are working fewer hours than they want to.

There are 2.8 million even on the restricted category of those who could do extra hours almost immediately.

It’s no wonder the “lower” occupational categories are desperate for more hours.

The average pay for “sales and customer service occupations” is £7 an hour, and for “elementary occupations” and “personal service occupations” it is £8 an hour.

So someone doing 25 hours a week is on £200 a week or less.

For details of the survey of underemployment go to

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Tue 20 Jul 2010, 18:40 BST
Issue No. 2211
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