Flexible working patterns could be the key to ensuring economic security for families

Flexible jobs can help drive productivity, as well as ensuring prosperity for families, says Helen Barnard.

High employment is one of the big success stories of this Government. Unemployment fell from 2.5 million to 1.8 million over the last five years and worklessness is at a record low. However, there are problems in the labour market underneath the good news, such as the higher number of people working part-time but wanting full-time work.

New research published today shows the impact flexible jobs could have on achieving economic security for families across the UK, ensuring work is a more reliable route out of poverty. Over 200,000 people living in poverty have the skills to do better-paid work but are prevented from improving their families’ living standards because of the lack of flexible jobs. Well-qualified people working in lower-skilled jobs also make it harder for those with fewer qualifications to get work at all.

The new evidence shows for the first time how much could be gained by increasing the availability of part-time and flexible jobs. The research defines a ‘good-quality job’ as one that pays at least £10.63 an hour – the amount needed for parents, older people and disabled people to afford what the public defines as a decent, minimum standard of living. This research finds that 1.9 million people have the skills to do a job that pays this much, but need a flexible or part-time job and can’t find one. Of these, 1.5 million people are in part-time work but working below their skill level, and 154,000 are workless.

The vast majority of businesses (96 per cent) offer flexible working to their existing staff, but flexible working options are only mentioned in 6.2 per cent of adverts for quality job vacancies. Since nearly half of the UK’s workforce want flexibility in their next job, this creates fierce demand for the flexible, quality jobs that do exist. The research shows that there are 7.4 workless people chasing every quality flexible job, compared to one workless person for every quality full-time job.

Encouraging more employers to introduce flexible working into their hiring practices would offer three wins: more talent and productivity for business, higher living standards for employees and lower welfare costs for government. This is an area where employers can take a strong lead – delivering for their own business as well as for wider society.

Governments and public bodies are large employers themselves and should champion flexible working practices, as well as designing employment support services that prioritise linking people to flexible, good-quality jobs. Other options to help parents back into work include:

  • supporting low-income parents moving onto Universal Credit to increase their earnings through access to better-quality flexible jobs, not just by working more hours;
  • developing careers advancement services that include giving advice and support to employers, enabling them to design more jobs to be flexible and hire more staff on a flexible or part-time basis;
  • jobs in national, devolved and local government routinely advertising quality vacancies as ‘open to flexibility’;
  • larger employers reporting on the pay gap between full-time and part-time employees at different levels in their organisation.