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Ian Brinkley
Economic Advisor
Ian Brinkley

Jobs growth has been largely based on insecure work and under-employment

Authors: Ian Brinkley Ian Brinkley

21 August 2012

Government ministers have reportedly taken the BBC to task for being insufficiently enthusiastic about the employment figures – a charge hard to fathom given current levels of uncertainty about labour market prospects.  At the risk of being officially denounced, it is perfectly legitimate to look beneath the totals – good as they are - and suggest things are not quite as robust as the official view suggests.

One reason why the figures are being questioned is that since the end of the recession there has been a severe shortage of full-time permanent employee jobs. To break the figures down, we’ve looked at employment growth comparing the first quarter of 2010 with the latest quarter, April-June 2012. Total employment has grown by 670,000. This includes about 350,000 new jobs for employees and a 275,000 increase in self-employment, as well as a modest increase in people on government training schemes with a contract of employment (up 23,000) and some unpaid family workers (up 19,000). A little over half the total rise has been in part-time work (employees plus self-employed) - just under 350,000. And the number of temporary employees has increased by about 180,000 – the vast majority full-time. But what is really striking is the increase in the number of people in part-time work who say they want a full-time job - up by nearly 360,000.

So when we start to unpack the figures, we find that all of the increase in part-time work has been involuntary and just under a third of the increase in employee employment has been in temporary work. Full-time employee jobs have accounted for less than 30 % of the total increase since employment started to grow again after the recession.  Unfortunately, the only figures that split temporary work into full- and part-time are seasonally unadjusted, so we cannot say for sure how many of these new full-time employee jobs were temporary. However, we can say that most of the increase in employment has been in self-employment, “involuntary” part-time permanent jobs (by involuntary we mean part-time jobs held by people who said they wanted a full-time job), temporary jobs, people on government schemes and unpaid family workers.

Change Jan-March 2010 to April-June 2012



Total in work


+  2.3%



+  1.4%



+  7.0%

  Government schemes

+  23


  Unpaid family

+  19





Full-time employees



Part-time employees



Temporary employees






Part-time (all in work)


+  4.4%

Part-time involuntary (all in work)



Note: all figures seasonally adjusted, UK. Source Office for National statistics

This helps explain some of the mystery of the labour market recovery in the face of recession. The overall numbers are still stronger than we would have expected, but they show that employers are exercising caution – creating large numbers of temporary and part-time jobs as well as some permanent and full-time posts. The big rise in self-employment fits with a much more robust performance from self-employment through the recession and into the recovery. We think we are seeing a continued structural shift towards greater self-employment among those in white collar managerial professional and associated jobs, reinforced by shorter term pressures during this recovery pushing more people into self-employment.

When we look back at a similar period after the 1990s recession, the stand out difference is not the rise in part-time or temporary work. Both were also features of the years between 1993 and 1995. The big difference is the increase in involuntary part-time – people taking part-time jobs because no full-time work was available. Between 1993 and 1995 involuntary part-time work increased by just under 40,000 or 5 %. Between 2010 and 2012, the numbers increased by 356,000 or 33 %. The difference cannot be accounted for by the supply of full-time employee jobs in this recovery, which is not greatly different to the 1990s recovery. But we think that both the demand for full-time work has gone up and the willingness of people looking for full-time work to take a part-time job has increased (a shift encouraged by successive government welfare reforms). As a result, the gap between the demand and supply for full-time work has clearly widened since the 1990s recovery.

Ministers may be annoyed that the overall good performance of the labour market is being questioned. But there are three reasons why we should be concerned. Firstly, as we and others have made clear, the divergence between the GDP numbers and the employment figures cannot last. We must all hope they are reconciled by the economy doing better than the GDP statistics suggest. But it is just as likely that the labour market could go rapidly into reverse if employers think they have to adjust to a long period of very weak growth. Secondly, the fall in productivity looks to us to be temporary and short-term – but if it were to persist it would make it impossible to sustain higher real living standards and would have serious implications for medium term growth prospects. Thirdly, the labour market has not been generating enough of the jobs that many people clearly want and need – full-time, permanent employee posts. The latest quarterly figures were more encouraging on this point, but these trends need to be sustained before ministers get the coverage on the labour market statistics they think they deserve.


Comments in Chronological Order (Total 5 Comments)


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02 Oct 2014 8:34AM

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04 Oct 2014 12:33AM

Unemployment is not only a big problem of underdeveloped countries but the country like U.S is also affected from it. Thanks for the facts and figures. It is true that when people dont get the job, they prefer part time jobs and self-employment. I think there are many things in the system need to be change. speech writer


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