UK sleepwalks into proliferation of insecure work; short sighted, damages health & costs taxpayer. Dr Angela Donkin

23 March 2017

TAP health equality campaign Blog 7. 

Allowing the UK to sleepwalk into a proliferation of insecure work is short sighted, damages health and costs the taxpayer.  

Dr Angela Donkin, Institute of Health Equity.

Summary.

The Government, NHS and local authorities are being burdened by additional health care requirements, particularly for mental health services, and diseases linked to higher stress levels.

The latest figures from the TUC indicate that 1 in 10 workers in 2016 were in insecure employment, that’s 3m adults, up from 2.4million in 2011.  The Citizens Advice Bureaux puts the number even higher at 2.3 million in 2016 on variable shifts, 1.1 million on temporary contracts, and 800,000 on zero-hour or agency contracts a total of 4.2 million in precarious work.  (CAB, 2016)

There is comprehensive scientific evidence of increased risk of poor mental health resulting from insecure/precarious employment (e.g., informal work, non-fixed term temporary contracts, and part-time work) (Artazcoz, Benach, Borrell & Cortes, 2005; Kim et al., 2006).

A 2012 study found that perceived job insecurity predicted much higher odds of fair or poor self-reported health, depression, and anxiety attacks. These effects still occurred even controlling for sociodemographic characteristics, previous health problems, temporary work, or recent job loss (Burgard, Kalousova & Seefeldt, 2012).

Moving forward there seem to be a number of avenues to explore to improve worker’s rights and security;

  1. There is an opportunity to enforce the Social Value Act through commissioning - public money should be spent in a way to maximise social value.
  2. Researchers and economic modellers need to calculate the long term costs of short term cost savings in social policy, to make a case to reverse cuts to local authority budgets.
  3. And, government need to step up to employers and insist that better terms and conditions are provided. 
  4. The media and pressure groups could also play a role, should we;
  • name and shame companies and encourage people to boycott their products?
  • or lobby to tax offending companies for the ever increasing tax bill associated with mental ill health for adults/work stress?

Alongside, to reduce the perceived stress and cost of insecurity, we need;

  • an effective, rapidly responding, and sufficient security net to catch those with insufficient hours and
  • those who are at risk of losing work,
  • and cheap flexible childcare.

Meanwhile an army of mental health workers is needed to pick up the pieces.

 

Allowing the UK to sleepwalk into a proliferation of insecure work is short sighted, damages health and costs the tax payer.  

Dr Angela Donkin, Institute of Health Equity

The latest figures from the TUC indicate that 1 in 10 workers in 2016 were in insecure employment, that’s 3m adults, up from 2.4million in 2011.  The majority of insecure employment is associated with low pay. (TUC 2016) The Citizens Advice Bureaux puts the number even higher, with 2.3 million in2016 on variable shifts, 1.1 million on temporary contracts, and 800,000 on zero-hour or agency contracts.  (CAB, 2016)

We might think that this is driven by private companies wishing to cut the costs of hiring, and providing good terms and conditions but the evidence does not back this up entirely.  Of course in many cases the companies are private, a fifth of the increase has been from a 128% increase in insecure restaurant and pub workers. (TUC 2016)

However, other sectors have seen large increases, for example the TUC reported a 133% increase in insecure work in social care, and a 42% increase in insecure work in education. (TUC 2016) Both these sectors provide services that Government provide funding to local authorities for, but local government budgets have been cut to the bone and they are struggling to deliver services, it is perhaps unsurprising they have needed to turn to these measures.

Allowing the country to sleepwalk into a proliferation of insecure work is short sighted.  The Government, NHS and local authorities are being burdened by additional health care requirements, particularly for mental health services, and diseases linked to higher stress levels.

This is because there is comprehensive scientific evidence of increased risk of poor mental health resulting from insecure/precarious employment (e.g., informal work, non-fixed term temporary contracts, and part-time work) (Artazcoz, Benach, Borrell & Cortes, 2005; Kim et al., 2006).

A 2012 study found that perceived job insecurity predicted much higher odds of fair or poor self-reported health, depression, and anxiety attacks. These effects still occurred even controlling for sociodemographic characteristics, previous health problems, temporary work, or recent job loss (Burgard, Kalousova & Seefeldt, 2012).

One argument against controls on insecure work, has been that some people choose it as a preference.  However a survey from the Citizens Advice Bureaux, in 2012, suggest that increasing numbers were going to them with issues emanating from insecure work - three quarters (75 per cent) of staff and volunteers said that people coming to them for help are more likely to have fluctuating hours or shift patterns now than they did a year ago.  83 per cent say people with fluctuating work have problems with debt. 70 per cent of CAB staff and volunteers surveyed state they are aware of cases where someone’s hours or shifts changed negatively after they turned down work or took holiday or sick leave. 87 per cent say people with fluctuating work face complications or delays to benefits such as working tax credits or housing benefit.. Three quarters (74 per cent) report they feel that people with fluctuating work seeking help from CAB have problems with childcare. (CAB 2012)

Reducing the health impacts of insecure work

Moving forward there seem to be a number of avenues to explore to improve worker’s rights and security;

  1. There is an opportunity to enforce the Social Value Act through commissioning - public money should be spent in a way to maximise social value.
  2. Researchers and economic modellers need to calculate the long term costs of short term cost savings in social policy, to make a case to reverse cuts to local authority budgets.
  3. And, government need to step up to employers and insist that better terms and conditions are provided. 
  4. The media and pressure groups could also play a role, should we;
  • name and shame companies and encourage people to boycott their products?
  • or lobby to tax offending companies for the ever increasing tax bill associated with mental ill health for adults/work stress?

Alongside, to reduce the perceived stress and cost of insecurity, we need;

  • an effective, rapidly responding, and sufficient security net to catch those with insufficient hours and
  • those who are at risk of losing work,
  • and cheap flexible childcare.

Meanwhile an army of mental health workers is needed to pick up the pieces.

References

Artazcoz, L., Benach, J., Borrell, C., & Cortes, I. (2005). Social inequalities in the impact of flexible employment on different domains of psychosocial health. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 59, 761–767.

Burgard, S. A., Kalousova, L. B. A., & Seefeldt, K. S. (2012). Perceived job insecurity and health: The Michigan recession and recovery study. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 54(9), 1101–1106.

CAB (2016) https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/about-us/how-citizens-advice-works/media/press-releases/45-million-people-in-insecure-work-reveals-citizens-advice/

CAB (2012) https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/about-us/how-citizens-advice-works/media/press-releases/45-million-people-in-insecure-work-reveals-citizens-advice/

Kim, I. H., Muntaner, C., Khang, Y. H., Paek, D., & Cho, S. I. (2006). The relationship between nonstandard working and mental health in a representative sample of the South Korean population. Social Science & Medicine, 63(3), 566–574.

TUC. (2016) https://www.tuc.org.uk/workplace-issues/basic-rights-work/insecure-work-quarter-2011-finds-tuc

 


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