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  • Nearly 1 million over 50s now working through the night
  • Night working at its highest level since current records began
  • TUC warns that night working is linked to higher rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and depression

Older workers are powering the increase in night working, according to new TUC analysis published today (Saturday).

The analysis shows that over 50s account for all the growth in night working since 2014.

There are now nearly one million (924,000) night workers aged over 50 in Britain – up from 751,000 five years ago.

And a significant number are aged over 60 (222,000) and 65 (69,000).

The TUC says key factors behind the rise are:

  • older employees staying in work for longer
  • more jobs being created in sectors like social care where older workers are more likely to be employed

Night working at highest level since current records began

The number of people regularly working night shifts is at its highest level since the Office for National Statistics began collecting records in their current form.

The analysis of official data shows that 3.25 million people (more than 1 in 9 workers) work in Britain’s night-time economy – 100,000 more than five years ago.

While the number of over 50s doing night work has accelerated in recent years, fewer young workers are doing night shifts.

Care workers most likely to do night shifts

Care workers (432,000) account for the majority of night workers, followed by nurses and midwives (232,000).

The next most common profession for night workers is road transport drivers (208,000).

The number of employees working in social care has increased by 66,000 in the past 5 years. 63,000 of this increase was accounted for by workers aged over 50.

The North East has the highest share of workers doing night work

The South East has the most night workers in Britain (435,000) with London close behind (414,000).

But the North East (14.8%), Scotland (13.3%), Wales (13%) and Midlands (13%) have higher shares of their workforce regularly doing night work than the capital (11%).

Impact on health and family life

As the clocks go back tonight to mark the beginning of winter, the TUC is urging greater protection for the millions of UK workers who regularly work through the night.

As well as being bad for family life, the health risks of regular night work include cardiovascular disease, diabetes and depression.

The TUC says these risks are heightened for older workers.

Commenting on the analysis, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Britain’s loyal army of night workers has been boosted significantly by older workers.

“We all owe them a huge debt for keeping the country ticking over while we are asleep.

“Night work can be really hard – disrupting family life and placing a strain on people’s health.

“The government is not doing enough to protect these workers. They need better notice of their shifts and proper compensation if work is cancelled.”

Editors note

-  Fairness and safety for night-workers: The TUC recommends that:

  • Government should tighten the rules on night working. Workers should be able to enforce their rights at an employment tribunal.
  • Employers and unions should ensure that night working is only introduced where necessary.
  • Where night working is introduced into a workplace, no existing workers should be forced to work nights.
  • Shift patterns should be negotiated between unions and employers.
  • Workers should have some element of control over their rotas, so that they can ensure that the shifts they work are best suited to their individual circumstances.
  • Government should legislate to ensure that workers always have sufficient notice of their shift patterns, so they can make arrangements well in advance. Changes at short notice should be compensated.
  • Pay for those working nights should properly reflect the likely additional costs of childcare and inconvenience that night shifts can entail.

- All data comes from analysis of ONS labour force survey, second quarter

- The data series from ONS started in 2005

Night working employees by age (thousands)

Age

2014

2019

Change 2014-19

per cent change

16-49

2,409

2,333

-76

-3.2%

50 and over

751

924

+173

+23.0%

60 and over

179

227

+48

+26.8%

65 and over

46

69

+23

+50.0%

All ages 

3,159

3,257

+98

+3.1%

Occupations: Top 10 most common occupations for male night workers

Rank – 2019

Men

Number (thousands)

Rank 2019

Women

Number (thousands)

1

Protective services (police, fire and prison services)

151

1

Care workers (care assistants, home care workers etc.)

341

2

Road transport drivers (HGV, vans, buses, taxis)

143

2

Nurses and midwives

232

3

Security guards

101

3

Service workers (porters, bar staff, waiting staff, catering assistants)

91

4

Service workers (porters, bar staff, waiting staff, catering assistants)

100

4

Protective services (police, fire and prison services)

57

5

Care workers (care assistants, home care workers etc.)

96

5

Health professionals

51

6

Health professionals

68

6

Sales assistants

42

7

Warehouse workers

66

7

Teachers

36

8

Plant and machine operators

52

8

Cleaners

34

9

Engineering professionals

52

9

Customer service assistants

27

10

Process operatives (packers, bottlers, canners, fillers)

51

10

Hospitality and leisure managers

26

Breakdown by region and nation:

2014 thousands

2019 thousands

Per cent 2019

Change (thousands)

North East

176

154

14.8

-22

North West

365

339

11.4

-34

Yorkshire +Humber

280

268

12.3

-12

East Midlands

235

263

13.0

+28

West Midlands

246

308

13.0

+62

Eastern

264

252

9.6

-12

London

370

414

11.0

+44

South East

420

435

11.2

+15

South West

260

266

11.3

*

Wales

148

165

13.0

+17

Scotland

311

312

13.3

*

Northern Ireland

84

80

10.9

*

UK

3,158

3,257

11.8

+99

* means that the change is so small as to be statistically insignificant

- The health and work life balance impacts of night-working: The negative health impacts of night work are already well documented and include heightened risks of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and depression. However, less attention has been given to the impacts on home life and relationships. The TUC wants the night economy to thrive but demands that employers must properly consider and address its impact on staff. Decisions to extend night working should always involve talks with unions.

- Diabetes and night working - a study on this “Night Shift Work, Genetic Risk, and Type 2 Diabetes in the UK Biobank” from early 2018 can be read here https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/early/2018/01/31/dc17-1933

- Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) list age as a risk factor for heart disease:  https://www.iosh.com/resources-and-research/our-resources/occupational-health-toolkit/heart-disease/

-  TUC analysis from earlier this year showed that zero-hours workers are twice as likely to work night shifts: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/zero-hour-workers-twice-likely-work-%E2%80%9Chealth-risk%E2%80%9D-night-shifts-%E2%80%93-tuc-analysis

- The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together more than 5.6 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.