Record figures reveal almost one million workers on zero-hour contracts
Almost one million people were employed on zero-hour contracts at the end of 2019, according to record new figures.
Labour called the stats “shocking” while the Liberal Democrats accused the Government of “refusing to address the problem”.
But Treasury sources said at just 3% of the workforce those working on a zero-hour basis still represent a “minute” part of the overall number of employees.
They instead wanted to focus on the fact the unemployment rate remains at its lowest since 1974, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) report.
However the Lib Dem acting leader Ed Davey said: "With more people than ever before depending on low-paid, irregular work to make ends meet, the Conservatives have no right to celebrate today’s employment figures.”
The ONS said in the fourth quarter of last year a record 974,000 people were recorded as being on “zero-hour contracts” in their main job, 130,000 more than for the same period in 2018.
Mr Davey added: "Hundreds of thousands of people are trapped in jobs that are badly paid, don’t offer career advancement, and take a toll on people’s wellbeing.
“Yet Boris Johnson keeps hiding behind high employment figures, refusing to address the problem and its impact on overall wage growth.
"The UK doesn’t simply need more jobs, it needs better jobs.”
And Margaret Greenwood, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “It is shocking that there are more people on zero-hour contracts in the UK than ever before.
“That means more people than ever having to live from week to week with no idea what hours they will work or whether they will be able to feed their children or pay their rent.
“The Government must make tackling insecure work and low pay a priority by banning zero-hour contracts and providing a real living wage of at least £10 per hour for all workers aged 16 and over.”
In response the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, said: “Since 2010 employment has grown and unemployment has fallen in every nation and region of the UK - but we need to do more to share opportunity across the country.
“At the Budget, we will invest and level up to ensure the whole of the UK benefits as we unite our country and unleash our potential.”
The ONS figures show the number of people on zero-hour contracts was less than 200,000 in 2011, but it increased steeply every year before levelling off at around 900,000 in 2016 and 2017.
That number fell to 780,000 half-way through 2018, but the ONS data shows it rose sharply in the months after that, and continued rising to reach the all-time high number in the fourth quarter of 2019.