Covid death rates twice as high in zero-hours and casual jobs, study suggests

‘If people can’t observe self-isolation when they need to, the virus could rebound,’ warns TUC chief

Jane Dalton
Friday 16 April 2021 00:00 BST
Those on low wages who cannot work from home are more likely to catch and die of Covid
Those on low wages who cannot work from home are more likely to catch and die of Covid

Coronavirus death rates are twice as high in insecure jobs as in other professions, new research suggests.

The TUC said workers on a contract that does not guarantee regular hours or income, such as zero-hours contracts or casual work, and those in low-paid self-employment, have been more at risk of infection.

It’s thought that key workers such as those in social care and delivery driving, which cannot be done from home and require people to come into contact with others, are more insecure.

The Covid-19 mortality rate among men in insecure occupations was 51 per 100,000 people aged 20-64, compared with 24 per 100,000 in more secure work, said the union organisation.

The mortality rate among women in insecure jobs was 25 per 100,000 people, compared with 13 per 100,000 in more secure occupations.

The TUC, which called the figures stark, said more research was needed to understand the links between precarious work and risk of infection and death.

Its analysis of official figures suggests there are 3.6 million people in the UK in insecure work, after numbers rose following the 2008 financial crisis.

The TUC report says workers in insecure jobs are having to shoulder more risk of infection while facing a “triple whammy” of a lack of sick pay, fewer rights and endemic low pay, the report states.

Those in insecure occupations have largely continued to work outside the home during the pandemic, while many key workers are in insecure employment, it says.

General secretary Frances O’Grady said: “No matter your race or background, everyone deserves fair pay and to be treated with dignity and respect, but during the pandemic we’ve seen higher infections and death rates in insecure jobs.

“Too many workers are trapped on zero-hours contracts or in other sorts of insecure work, and are hit by a triple whammy of endemic low pay, few workplace rights and low or no sick pay.

“Lots of them are the key workers we all applauded, like social care workers, delivery drivers and coronavirus testing staff. This must be a turning point.”

She called on ministers to raise statutory sick pay to the level of the real living wage, and ensure everyone can get it.

“If people can’t observe self-isolation when they need to, the virus could rebound. No-one should have to choose between doing the right thing and putting food on the table.”

Katie Schmuecker, of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “It’s heartbreaking to think of the plight many people have found themselves in during this pandemic, having to go out to work and expose themselves to a deadly virus to support themselves and their families.”

She said research showed people on zero-hours or temporary contracts were four times more likely to lose their job during the first lockdown, and self-employed people were three times more likely to stop working than those on permanent contracts.

“The lowest-paid workers and part-time workers were twice as likely to lose their jobs compared with the highest paid,” she added.

New research by the Living Wage Foundation has highlighted the stress caused by insecure and unpredictable work patterns, showing that two-fifths of all employees are given less than a week’s notice of their shifts or working hours.

Additional reporting by PA

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