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  • NEW ANALYSIS: numbers in insecure work grew by a fifth in the decade preceding the pandemic – with half a million more in insecure work by the end of the decade
  • Insecure workers were TWICE as likely to die from Covid-19 during the pandemic
  • TUC says Tory failure on workers’ rights had devastating consequences for workers

The TUC has today (Monday) called on the Covid public inquiry to look at how the “unchecked growth” of insecure work left millions of low-paid and frontline workers vulnerable to the pandemic.

New analysis by the TUC shows that between 2011 and the end of 2019, the number of people in insecure work grew by a fifth – with half a million more in insecure jobs by the end of the decade.

In 2011, the numbers in insecure work were 3.2 million. By the end of the decade, the numbers were 3.7 million.

This growth is disproportionate compared to the growth of the labour market in this period (the proportion of those in insecure work grew from 10.7% to 11.2%).

The call by the union body comes as the Covid public inquiry prepares to take witness evidence from Tuesday 13 June.  

Higher mortality rates

TUC analysis during the pandemic showed that those in insecure occupations faced mortality rates which were twice as high as those in more secure jobs.

The analysis showed that:

  • The Covid-19 male mortality rate in insecure occupations was 51 per 100,000 people aged 20-64, compared to 24 per 100,000 people in less insecure occupations.
  • The Covid-19 female mortality rate in insecure occupations was 25 per 100,000 people, compared to 13 per 100,000 in less insecure occupations.

BME and low-paid workers “forced to shoulder most risk”

The TUC says workers in insecure jobs were forced to shoulder more risk of infection during this pandemic, while facing the “triple whammy” of a lack of sick pay, fewer rights and endemic low pay.

TUC polling from 2022 showed that three in four (76%) in insecure jobs get the “miserly” statutory sick pay, or nothing, when off sick.

Insecure workers are markedly less likely to benefit from the full range of employment rights that permanent, more secure workers are entitled to, including vital safeguards such as unfair dismissal and redundancy protections.

Sectors such as care, leisure, and the elementary occupations have high rates of insecure work – compared to managerial, professional and admin sectors which have some of the lowest.

Those in insecure occupations largely continued to work outside the home during the pandemic – and many were key workers.

A government study suggested that agency workers at care homes – often employed on zero-hours contracts – unwittingly spread the infection as the pandemic grew.

During the pandemic, insecure workers accounted for one in nine workers – with women, disabled workers and BME workers more likely to be in precarious work.

Recent TUC research showed BME women are twice as likely to be on zero-hours contracts as white men.

Dismal record on workers’ rights

The TUC says that the government’s record on workers’ rights has been dismal.

Instead of “getting a grip of insecure work” as it grew from 2010 onwards, the Conservative government “let it flourish on their watch”.

This was despite government promises to boost employment rights.

The Taylor Review reported on 11 July 2017, promising “good work for all”. However, the following years have seen few of the review’s proposals implemented.

And since the pandemic, ministers have failed to learn lessons – instead repeating the same mistakes.

Ministers ditched the long-promised employment bill – and they are now backsliding on promised protections for workers from sexual harassment, as well as attacking workers’ right to strike.

TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said:

“The Covid public inquiry must look at how the unchecked growth of insecure work left millions vulnerable to the pandemic.

“Ministers let insecure work flourish on their watch – instead of clamping down on the worst employment practices.

“That failure had devastating – and even fatal – consequences for workers.

“Those in insecure work faced markedly higher Covid infections and death rates. And they were hit by a triple whammy of endemic low pay, few workplace rights and low or no sick pay.

“Lots of them were the key workers we all applauded – like care workers, delivery drivers and coronavirus testing staff.

“For years ministers promised working people improved rights and protections. But they repeatedly failed to deliver.

“It’s time for the government to learn the lessons of the pandemic and stamp out the scourge of insecure work for good.”

On the Conservative government refusing to hand over unredacted evidence to the inquiry Paul added:

“Ministers seem more interested in playing political games than learning lessons from the pandemic.

“It’s time they fully cooperated with the inquiry and stopped dragging their feet.”

Editors note

Total in insecure work   




Total in work  




Proportion in insecure work 




Definition of insecure work - The total number in ‘insecure work’ includes (1) agency, casual, seasonal and other workers, but not those on fixed – term contracts, (2) workers whose primary job is a zero-hours contract, (3) self-employed workers who are paid below 66% of median earnings. The methodology is slightly different to last year as previous analysis looked at self-employed earning below the minimum wage.     

-Methodology: Data on temporary workers and zero-hour workers is taken from the Labour Force Survey . Double counting has been excluded.   

The data on the low paid self-employed is from the Family Resources Survey and has been commissioned by the TUC from Landman Economics. The Family Resources Survey suggests that fewer  people are self-employed than other data sources, including the Labour Force Survey. And the data from the Family Resources survey looks at age 18+.  

- About the TUC: The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together the 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living. 


TUC press office   
020 7467 1248  

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