Part-time work: two sides to every story


A glance at the labour market statistics will tell you that there’s a lot of involuntary underemployment. The number of people in this position –working few hours or in lower-skilled jobs for lack of finding something more suitable – is worryingly high and has been for some time. At the start of 2008, 1 million people were working in part-time or temporary jobs because they couldn’t find full-time or permanent work. This figure now stands at over 2 million. Thankfully this growth has now slowed. However many people remain trapped in underemployment.

There has been a question about where this underemployment has come from in the labour market. Over the last few years, we have seen a rise in part-time and temporary jobs. But as the chart below shows, this growth has occurred across the labour market. Routine occupations, small employers and self-employed people saw the largest rises in the prevalence of part time work. But there has also been a rise in part time work in higher skilled occupations such as managerial and professional jobs. Temporary work has increased in many occupations too.

Temporary and part-time employment may also reflect an increase in flexible working arrangements. Greater access to flexible working is crucial to getting more people into work. This is especially true for women and the over-50s. Government know this too. Just yesterday Nick Clegg announced the extension of the right to request flexible work to all employees who have been in their job for at least 26 weeks. But how much of this growth in part time and temporary work is the result of flexible working arrangements? Today’s labour market statistics suggest not much.

Source: Resolution Foundation analysis of ONS
Notes: Three month rolling average for April-June 2008 and April-June 2012