Unemployment may be falling faster than most economists and the Bank of England expected, but figures today highlighted the frustrations of Britain’s army of part-time workers unable to earn a decent living wage.
More than 40 per cent of workers without full-time employment want more hours, with that number increasing to nearly 50 per cent for those currently struggling on fewer than eight hours a week.
The figures, from Markit, give the lie to the theory put by some business leaders that flexibility and part-time working is mainly a lifestyle choice for those such as parents of young children or carers to elderly relatives.
The survey – one of the largest of its kind, interviewing almost 1,000 households – showed that the desire for more hours was strongest among young men, with those working in retail and construction the most eager for more hours.
Even 9 per cent of people with full-time employment often want more hours, the survey found, suggesting that they too were struggling to cope with the cost of living.
Of those who are in employment, 36 per cent of employees feel their skills are underutilised by their bosses – a factor likely to be largely due to the difficulties that graduates have been finding in getting jobs reflecting their standards of education since the financial crisis.
Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, said: “The survey highlights a worrying waste of talent, with just over one in three employees feeling their employer could make more use of their skills and abilities.”
Official figures suggest that some 1.4 million are working part-time because they cannot find full-time jobs, leaving many households struggling to maintain their living standards – a factor that has been leapt upon by Labour as it gears up for next year’s election. Living standards have fallen for six years, with the Institute for Fiscal Studies pointing out that real incomes are still far below their level as recently as 2010.
The Markit study also points to a problem in the allocation of skills within the UK, with signs that there are not enough people with skills in IT and telecoms, finance and business services and construction. People employed in those areas were most likely to make up the 23 per cent of people who felt they had too much work to do.