Zero-hour contracts among the over 50s reach the highest level on record | Zero hour contracts

Zero-hour contracts among the over-50s have hit their highest level since records began, according to a new analysis of official government statistics.

There are almost 300,000 people aged 50 and over on zero hour contracts, the highest number for this age group since records began in 2013 and almost double the number 10 years ago. from 149,000 in October to December 2013 to 296,000 in July to September 2022.

More than a quarter of the total number of zero-hours contracts are held by workers aged 50 and over, according to analysis of data from the Office of National Statistics.

“The sharp increase in the number of people aged 50 and over working under zero-hour contracts is worrying,” said Stuart Lewis, chief executive of Rest Less, a digital community and advocate for people in their 50s and over, which has analyzed the data.

“We know many who have turned to zero-hours contracts because they couldn’t find a more permanent or structured type of work due to age discrimination or a lack of flexibility. in the workplace,” he added. “Others are juggling zero-hour contracts and other part-time roles to supplement working hours to make ends meet amid double-digit inflation.”

Rebecca Rees, 56, lives in Sussex with her husband. Currently unemployed, Rees was a nurse for 38 years and a health visitor for 20 years. “In 2014 I had no choice but to give up my full-time contract with the NHS so that I could work more flexibly while caring for my late mother,” she said. “The only option the NHS gave me was a zero hours contract.”

During the pandemic, however, Rees lost her job without warning and has since been unemployed. “I learned the hard way that my zero hour contract left me vulnerable to a totally unforeseen situation,” she said.

Chris Peace, director of the campaign organization Zero Hours Justice, warned that the usual challenges of relying on a zero hours contract – the insecurity of not knowing whether one is working or not, whether one has enough money to pay bills, and what their employment rights are – are exacerbated for people over 50 because of how their inconsistent salaries affect their financial planning as retirement approaches. retirement.

“Often, the pension contributions of people over 50 are particularly affected because their wages fluctuate from month to month,” Peace said. “Additionally, the use of zero-hours contracts is commonplace in the health and social care sector, and the impact on women over 50 in this sector is concerning.”

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director of Age UK, said zero-hours contracts are on the rise among older people because, “unfortunately it is often very difficult to find a new job in your 50s and beyond, as the ageism is rampant in the labor market”. . Yet, in reality, there is a wealth of knowledge, talent and experience among older workers, who often make a fantastic contribution through the jobs they do.”

Dr. Emily Andrews, deputy director of labor at the Center for Aging Better, said that while zero-hour contracts help many older workers stay active in the workforce as their circumstances change, “too often these contracts mean one-sided flexibility in favor of the employer. Last-minute changes to shifts prevent people from structuring their time or planning their finances. This is particularly worrying in a cost-of-living crisis.”

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