The temporary workforce grew by 0.6% year-on-year between January and March 2018, reaching a total of 1.59 million, new figures from the Office for Nationals Statistics (ONS) reveal.
Those classified as temporary workers include people working on fixed-term contracts, agency temp workers, casual workers and others, including skilled contracting professionals, who are not on permanent contracts.
The latest data also reveal that unemployment fell from 4.6% in January-March 2017 to 4.2% by the end of Q1 2018 – the joint lowest level since 1975, amounting to 1.42 million people (116,000 fewer than the previous year).
Meanwhile, the employment rate (as measured by the number of people of working age – 16 to 64 years – who are in work) reached a record 75.6%. This was not only higher than the same time last year (74.8%) but the highest level reached since comparable records began being compiled in 1971, translating into a grand total of 32.34 million people in work, standing at 396,000 more than the same time last year.
Job vacancies grew by 17,000 year-on-year to reach 806,000. Self-employment remained steady at approximately 4.8 million, representing 15% of the total workforce.
Commenting on the latest statistics, Julia Kermode, CEO of Umbrella Company trade association the Freelancer and Contractor Services Association (FCSA), noted the continuing growth in non-conventional employment patterns, which she said is set to continue, as reflected in the rise in temporary employment.
Emphasising the tight labour market characterised by skills shortages in a range of sectors, she continued:
“… it is possible that this increase in temporary employment is because employers are unable to source the permanent skills and talent they need. Additionally, 44% of the increase in temporary employment is due to people being temporary as they embark on training, which could include people in apprenticeships.”
While welcoming the continuing strength of the labour market, Tom Purvis, Economic Policy Adviser at IPSE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed) nonetheless drew attention to poor levels of economic growth and productivity.
Citing a new study from the Centre for Research on Self-Employment (The Economic Role of Freelance Workers in the Construction Industry), Purvis emphasised its key finding: that self-employed people contracting professionals gave a major boost to the construction industry last year, and are likely to enhance productivity in other areas too.
To encourage this, Purvis called on the government to protect and support the self-employed, adding:
“Policies like lowering the VAT threshold or rolling out IR35 to the private sector would jeopardise the self-employed, threaten the vital productivity boost they bring, and cause severe problems for a UK economy that only grew 0.1 per cent in Q1 2018.”