Underemployment has fallen for the third consecutive year and is now approaching pre-recession levels. Those who are underemployed and in work are concentrated in less skilled occupations.

There were 5.4 million underemployed people in the UK in the first half of 2015, down by 220,000 compared with 2014. Underemployment refers to those who are not working as much as they would like, whether that is not working at all for the unemployed and economically inactive, or working part-time because they were unable to get a full-time job.

Between 2014 and the first half of 2015, the number of unemployed people fell by 190,000 and the number of people working part-time because they could not get full-time work fell by 50,000. The number of inactive but wanting work was 20,000 higher. Inactive but wanting work is the largest single category among the underemployed at 2.3 million, with 1.8 million unemployed and 1.3 million working part-time wanting full-time.

The underemployment peak was in 2012, when 6.3 million people or 16 per cent of the working-age population were underemployed. Since then, unemployment has fallen by 730,000, part-time but wanting full-time has fallen 110,000, and inactive but wanting work has fallen by 70,000. The underemployment rate is 13 per cent in 2015, which is still 2 percentage points above the 2007 level.

The second graph provides a slightly different view of underemployment: the proportion of workers who would like more hours at the same rate of pay. This is shown by occupation and change over time between 2008 and 2014. The occupations are ranked in terms of the skill level required. In general, the lower skilled (and lower remunerated) the job, the larger the proportion who would like to work more hours and the larger the increase since 2008. Of those in elementary occupations, 21 per cent wanted to work more hours in 2014, up from 14 per cent in 2008. At the other end of the spectrum, only 3 per cent of managers, directors and senior officials wanted to work more hours in 2014, and the number barely increased from 2008. The exception is for process, plant and machine operatives, who are somewhat less likely to want more hours than other jobs with higher skill requirements.

Indicator: 11A

Indicator: 11B

about the indicator

The first graph shows the number of people unemployed, economically inactive but wanting work, and working-part time because they could not find full-time work. The figures for each year are the average of the four quarters, with the exception of 2015, which is the average of the first two quarters.

The second graph shows the proportion of workers wanting to work more hours in the same job at the same pay rate, or wanting an additional or new job with more hours at the same pay rate, by industry in 2008 and 2014. It uses the second quarter for each year.

Reliability: high. Both measures use official published statistics drawn from the Labour Force Survey.

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