Work Foundation warns 1.4 million workers face insecurity at work and at home as private rents soar

A row of different 'for let' boards positioned outside a row of properties © Adobe images

New analysis from the Work Foundation at Lancaster University reveals that 1.4 million people face the ‘double jeopardy’ of working in severely insecure jobs – meaning they face a combination of insecure work conditions such as low or unpredictable pay and a lack of rights and protections – whilst living in the private rented sector as rents soar.

Analysis of the ONS Labour Force Survey shows that a quarter (1.4 million) of the 5.8 million workers living in the private rental sector were in severely insecure work in 2023. Researchers say that one in five (20.9%) workers in severely insecure jobs live in private rental accommodation, compared with one in seven (14.5%) of those in secure roles.

On average, private renters spend a higher percentage of their monthly earnings on housing than those in all other tenures. The ONS suggests private rents have risen by 15% since January 2022. Analysis shows this is particularly challenging for severely insecure workers, who are on average £3.2k per year worse off than those in secure jobs.

Alice Martin, Head of Research at the Work Foundation at Lancaster University, said: “Workers in severely insecure employment – such as those on zero-hour contracts or in temporary work – are particularly vulnerable to the rising rents and lack of protections in the private rented sector.

“At the end of 2023, the ONS reported that almost half of renters were struggling to afford their rent, and the unpredictable shifts and pay that characterise insecure work can make this even more difficult to manage. Previous Work Foundation analysis has found that 49% of insecure workers couldn’t personally pay an unexpected bill of £300 if it was due within the next seven days.

“Facing uncertainty both at home and at work can also take a serious toll on people’s health and wellbeing – we can’t ignore this at a time when the level of economic inactivity due to ill-health is reaching record levels.”

Researchers warn that workers who face wider structural barriers in the labour market are most at risk of being in severely insecure work whilst living in the private rented sector:

  • Black and Asian workers who are in severely insecure work are 2.2 times more likely to rely on the private rented sector for housing than white workers in severely insecure jobs (Black severely insecure workers 38%, Asian severely insecure workers 37.5%, white severely insecure workers 17.3%)
  • Millennial workers are particularly likely to find themselves facing double jeopardy. Among millennials in severely insecure work one in three workers aged 25-34 (33.8%) live in private rented accommodation, and a quarter of workers aged 35-49 (25.6%).

“Relying on severely insecure work while privately renting can also be a barrier to home ownership. Unpredictable pay and a lack of contractual security will make it harder to save for a deposit and secure a mortgage – which means those who don’t have the Bank of Mum and Dad to fall back on will struggle to escape the high costs of renting”, Martin added.

Commenting on the new analysis, Ben Twomey, Chief Executive of Generation Rent, said, "People across the country are in desperate need of security in their lives - both at home and at work. We hear countless stories from private renters who are living in constant fear of being kicked out by their landlord at any time, through no fault of their own, with a Section 21 eviction. This must end.

"The Renters (Reform) Bill, passing through Parliament, promised to grant renters much-needed protections from eviction and homelessness. However, we have recently seen a watering-down of these reforms that threatens to undo the vital changes to the law that renters need. The government must make sure that the Bill gives renters the stability that they promised alongside building more homes - especially affordable and social homes - so that renters are able to find homes where they want to live."

Paul Nowak, General Secretary, TUC said, “Insecure work is an epidemic in the UK.

“This research lays bare the financial precarity of those in insecure work, who struggle to pay their rent each month and are particularly vulnerable to rent hikes.

“Insecure work, like zero hours contracts, hands almost total control over hours and earning power to managers – making it nearly impossible for workers to plan their budget.

“It’s time to end the scourge of insecure work once and for all – starting with a ban on zero hours contracts, like Labour is proposing in its New Deal for Working People.”

Alongside private rental reform, the report recommends that the next Government urgently bring forward a comprehensive Employment Bill to substantially reduce insecure work in the UK and support those in severely insecure work to better manage the risks of living in the private rented sector.

In particular, researchers recommend introducing reforms to:

  • Standardise employment status to ensure all workers have access to key rights and protections
  • Make guaranteed minimum working hours the default of all employment contracts, with employees possessing a right to request otherwise
  • Create a Single Enforcement Body to oversee compliance with employment regulations, and improve resourcing for this activity
  • Reform Statutory Sick by removing the earnings threshold, uprating the statutory amount and removing waiting days
  • Make flexible working a day one right, rather than a right to request.

The data brief ‘Double Jeopardy: Insecurity at work and at home is published on the Work Foundation website:  

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