300,000 people on zero hours contracts in social care alone

New figures which show practice much more widespread than previously thought

Political Editor

More than 300,000 people are employed on zero hours contracts in social care alone, according to new figures which show the practice is much more widespread than previously thought.

The revelation has fuelled demands from trade unions and think tanks for tighter regulation of the contracts, under which workers are put on standby without a guaranteed minimum number of hours.

Previously, the only official estimate of the number of employees on such contracts was a 200,000 figure by the Office for National Statistics, based on the Labour Force Survey used to compile the unemployment figures. Now Norman Lamb, the Care Minister, has told the Commons in a written reply that 307,000 workers in the care sector in England are employed on such a basis. He said the figures are not collected by the Department of Health but were obtained by Skills for Care, skills council for the social care sector. There is no breakdown between carers employed by local authorities and privately-run care homes or firms.

Labour seized on the disclosure. Andy Burnham, the shadow Health Secretary, said the figures meant that about 20 per cent of the social care workforce are employed on a zero hours basis . "Good care cannot be provided on a zero hours basis and a wing and a prayer. How can people who don't themselves have the security of knowing what they will earn from week to week pass on a sense of security to others?"

He believes the growth of the contracts strengthens his case for an integrated NHS and care system, so that carers enjoyed better conditions, were not in "dead end jobs" and could aspire to clinical grades. "We need the NHS to lift social care off the floor," he said. "In England, we have allowed a care system to develop which has too many unscrupulous operators all too ready to increase their own margins by cutting corners on the care of very vulnerable people.

Frances O'Grady, the TUC general secretary, described the figures as "shocking." She said: "Social care is not the only sector to be experiencing high levels of zero hours contracts - higher education, legal services and journalism all have large numbers of people working on these insecure terms and conditions.

"This rise in zero hours working is bad for employees and also for service users, many of whom are vulnerable adults. People want to see the same person whether it's their regular carer or college tutor - something that is severely hindered by zero hours contracts. Secure employment would allow staff to concentrate more on their jobs instead of having to worry from one to day to the next whether they will have any work or money to pay for food and bills."

Ian Brinkley, director of the Work Foundation, said:  "These numbers suggest there could be many more people on these sort of contracts than we thought. We need to extend this exercise to other parts of the public sector such as universities and the NHS as soon as possible."

Giselle Cory, senior analyst at the Resolution Foundation think tank, said: "This is a dramatic increase in the number of workers known to be on zero hours contracts and it should dispel any lingering complacency over how serious an issue this is. It also underlines the fact that no one knows exactly how many people in total work on these type of contracts - so far the scale of this has been seriously under-estimated."

She said the Government's review of such contracts, announced by the Business Secretary Vince Cable, should focus on how widespread they are, as well as the harm they can cause. Mr Cable does not want to ban the practice, because some workers like to work on this basis, but is considering tighter rules.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most