Warning that part time workers will suffer proportionately more job losses when furlough ends

Social enterprise Timewise has analysed what has happened to part-time workers during the pandemic – and found HALF have been ‘away from work’ (furloughed) or had their hours reduced compared to just one third of full-time workers.1The report, entitled ‘The impact of COVID-19 on part-time employees’ is published today by Timewise and is the first in a series called ‘FAIR FLEXIBLE FUTURES’ that explains the impact COVID-19 has had on the livelihoods of people who need to work part-time, especially in everyday frontline jobs.

Timewise commissioned the Institute for Employment Studies to conduct this analysis. Though the furlough scheme has been effective in keeping millions of employees in work and protecting them from unemployment, it is masking significant challenges, especially for those who work less than 35 hours a week (‘part-time workers’). Nearly 1 in 42 employees in the UK are part-time. Many of these part-timers work in frontline and low paid jobs. When asked, 80% of part-time workers (approximately 5.8million part-timers) do not want to work more hours.3

For many of these people, part-time work is a necessity to being able to work at all. Whether fitting work with raising children, elder care or a sickness or disability – often, full-time work is not an option. Since early on in the pandemic, it has been clear that people working in part time roles have borne the brunt of UK job losses, furlough and further reduction in working hours. Timewise warns that those who need part-time work have no viable market in which to find a new job – just 8 per cent of UK vacancies mention part-time possibilities4

.How have part-time workers been disproportionately affected? Women, ethnic minority groups and younger people have suffered significantly more than their contemporaries in the pandemic. A key defining factor of many of them is part time work. Although the number of full-timers on furlough is high, it is significantly less as a proportion of the workforce compared to part-timers.

While HALF the part-time workforce were away from work (furloughed) or had their working hours reduced during the first national lockdown, the comparable proportion for full-time workers was only one-third5 Across 2020, full-time employees began to return to their normal hours – from having had their hours reduced – in greater proportions to part-time employees. 44% of part-time employees who were ‘away from work’ (as classified by the ONS) during the first lockdown continued to be away from work between July-September 2020. The comparable figure for full-time employees was about a third (33.6%)6.

The impact of furlough has left many part-timers feeling they are “clinging on to disappearing jobs” (see case study below).

Rates of part-time employment have fallen to the lowest level seen since 2010 (24% of all those in work)7.

The share of women in part-time work has fallen to its lowest since records began, at 37% (down from 41% a year ago)8.Though the jobs market is in recovery mode, it masks a crisis for those who need part-time work – and women in particular. Many face two stark choices – become unemployed, or attempt to find a full-time job (called: ‘involuntary full-time work). Timewise says this is concerning because it is a precarious form of employment, unlikely to be sustainable for long due to factors such as childcare costs and needs.


Timewise’s Director of Development, Emma Stewart MBE says:
“Women – who have already been badly disadvantaged in this pandemic- make up the majority of people who need part-time work. With the furlough scheme set to end in September, part-time employees feel they are clinging on to jobs that will soon disappear – and cannot find new part-time jobs to apply for. They will effectively be locked out of work, because just 8 per cent of UK jobs are advertised with part-time options. We need a jobs recovery that is inclusive of people who need to work less, not just remotely. This is vital to prevent inequalities from widening further and the clock rolling back on gender equality.

“Tony Wilson, Director of Institute for Employment Studies says:
“This crisis has seen part-time employment fall at its fastest rate in at least thirty years, while the share of women working part-time has dropped to its lowest since records began.  We think that there are two things driving this.  First, part-time workers have been hit harder by successive lockdowns, with today’s research showing that they have also benefited less when lockdowns have ended. 

But secondly, we’ve seen more part-time workers take on full-time hours, either to make up for lost earnings from a partner or because they’re in the frontline of the pandemic, particularly in the NHS.  Either way, the signs are that far from heralding a new era of flexible working, this recovery may see far fewer people getting the hours and the flexibility that they need.  Today’s report also provides more evidence for why we need a new Employment Bill, to improve security for part time workers and strengthen people’s rights to work flexibly.

“Recommendations Timewise is making a set of recommendations to government, off the back of this report9. Including: THE RIGHT TO ASK FOR FLEXIBLE WORKING FROM DAY ONE: create legislation to formalise employees’ right to ask for flexible work without having to wait 26 weeks. INCENTIVISE FLEXIBLE WORKING THROUGH JOB CREATION: ensure government funded employer creation schemes such as the green jobs deal, include requirements for new jobs to be flexible. PROVIDE BETTER EMPLOYMENT SUPPORT FOR FLEX JOB SEEKERS: ensure that job brokerage schemes such as the government’s flagship Restart programme, provide bespoke support to job seekers who need flexible work so they have a fairer chance of finding it. LAUNCH A CHALLENGE FUND FOR FLEXIBLE WORK: targeted at supporting a sector led approach to designing better quality part-time and flexible roles in industries where it is more operationally complex.

Author: Editorial Team

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