From the TUC

Underemployed part-time workers

11 Nov 2011, by in Labour market

What’s the best way to measure the shortage of jobs? A new set of European figures shows that, by international standards, the UK has a serious problem.

The unemployment figures are an obvious source of data about people who want work but haven’t got jobs, but if we only rely on them we’ll seriously underestimate the problem.

For one thing, to be counted as unemployed, in addition to not being in employment, you have to be available to start a job at short notice and to have been looking for a job in the past fortnight. If you fail that test you’re counted as “economically inactive”. For some people who aren’t interested in getting a job that’s fair enough, but for many it’s an issue – every month the employment figures show about two million “economically inactive” people say they want jobs – which is why we sometimes report on the “want work rate” which takes them into account, as well as unemployed people.

Another issue is that some people aren’t doing as much work as they would prefer. In particular, there are thousands of people working in part-time jobs who want and/or need full-time employment. That is why our Labour Market Reports usually include the monthly data for the number of people in ‘involuntary part-time employment.’

These figures are useful, and we’ve learned some important lessons from them. We know, for instance, that there are significant gender differences and that the number of involuntary part-time workers began rising quickly at the start of the recession.

But we haven’t known much about how this country compares with other advanced industrialised democracies. Is the UK’s level of involuntary part-time high or low compared to other countries?

Well, new data published today by Eurostat, the EU statistics agency, provides a worrying answer to that question. Figures for Underemployed part-time workers in 2010 show that 5.4 per cent of the economically inactive population are people who are part-time workers who wish to work more hours and are available to do so. Across the EU and the rest of Western Europe only Germany and Switzerland match this proportion, no country exceeds it:

Country

Percentage of active population 

Switzerland

5,4 

Germany

5,4 

United Kingdom

5,4 

Ireland

5,1 

Latvia

5,1

Spain

4,9 

Sweden

4,5 

France

4,3 

Euro area (17 Countries)

3,6 

European Union (27 Countries)

3,7 

Finland

3,0 

Norway

3,0 

Denmark

2,9 

Austria

2,9 

Greece

2,7 

Cyprus

2,7 

Malta

2,5 

Romania

2,4 

Croatia

2,4 

Lithuania

2,3 

Slovenia

1,9 

Estonia

1,8 

Poland

1,8 

Portugal

1,8 

Turkey

1,8 

Italy

1,7 

Luxembourg

1,7 

Hungary

1,4 

Former Yugoslav Rep of Macedonia

1,4 

Netherlands

1,3 

Slovakia

1,3 

Belgium

0,8 

Bulgaria

0,8 

Czech Republic

0,6 

(Eurostat uses different definitions from the Office for National Statistics; in this case, the population is those aged 15 to 74.)

I’d guess that this problem is going to get worse, because the new Universal Credit, when it is introduced, will push people towards much shorter hours jobs than the Jobseeker’s Allowance system, which doesn’t recognise a job unless it is for more than 16 hours a week.

The UK’s underemployed workforce is a staggering 1.68 million strong – this country accounts for 19.7 per cent of all the underemployed part-time workers in the EU. I’d say that’s one aspect of our “flexible labour market” we should not be proud of.

One Response to Underemployed part-time workers

  1. Underemployed part-time workers « Act of Defiance
    Nov 11th 2011, 9:46 pm

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