Furloughed part-timers 'clinging on to disappearing jobs'

By Michael Race
BBC News

Published
Related Topics
image copyrightGetty Images

Amanda Bellwood, a part-time worker, has been on furlough since the UK's first coronavirus lockdown and fears she will never return to the company where she has worked for 20 years.

The 57-year-old, who is not using her real name, says she is "certain" she'll be made redundant in July, when the government will reduce the proportion of people's wages it pays to 70% and employers will have to pay 10% for hours not worked.

"I feel cast aside. No one has touched base with me or said even said 'hi' in over a year," says the grandmother-of-three, who works for a pen manufacturing and sales company.

"It seems to me that lots of businesses are getting rid of their part-timers, scaling down on more experienced personnel and keeping on to junior staff, to save costs."

'Bearing the brunt'

According to flexible working campaigners Timewise, Mrs Bellwood is not alone in fearing redundancy. The consultancy is warning that the UK's 7.8 million part-time workers, most of whom are women, will bear the brunt of job losses when the furlough scheme ends in September.

A study commissioned by Timewise found that half of all part-time workers had been furloughed at one point during the pandemic, compared to a third of full-time employees.

Meanwhile, part-time employment has fallen at its fastest rate in at least 30 years during the crisis, with the share of women working part-time at its lowest since records began.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionResearch suggests part-time workers have been hit hardest by the pandemic

'Clinging on to disappearing jobs'

Emma Stewart, Timewise's director of development, says employees feel like they are "clinging on to jobs that will soon disappear".

She says part-time workers could "effectively be locked out of work" after analysis of job adverts revealed just 8% of UK job vacancies are advertised as part-time.

Mrs Bellwood, from Hitchin, Hertfordshire, says working part-time is "crucial" to her supporting her children by looking after and spending time with her grandchildren.

She says she has found searching for part-time roles "demoralising" and "all very impersonal" after sending off hundreds of applications with no reply.

"My husband was made redundant last October, he worked for a removal business for 35 years," she says.

"Suddenly, we face an uncertain future and it's frightening. I know so many people like me. Over 50, who have lost their part-time jobs."

Timewise says that in 2020, 44% of part-time workers who were classified as being "away from work" - or on furlough - during the first lockdown continued to be away between July and September.

That compares to about a third of full-time workers.

Tony Wilson, director of Institute for Employment Studies, says part-time workers have been "hit harder" by successive lockdowns and are taking on full-time jobs to "make up for lost earnings" - both factors driving the fall in part-time roles.

"Either way, the signs are that far from heralding a new era of flexible working, this recovery may see far fewer people getting the hours and the flexibility that they need," he says.

Office for National Statistics figures show 7.8 million people were employed part-time between January and March this year compared to 8.7 million in the same period last year.

The number of women employed part-time fell from 6.4 million to 5.7 million.

'Flexibility vital for childcare'

Kelly Burns, who does not want to use her real name, says it shocked her that it was so hard to find a part-time job after she was made redundant last July.

The 42-year-old from Hampshire says it is "vital" she can work flexible hours during school time so she can care for her two children as a single mother.

image copyrightGetty Images

She had a job at as a personal assistant for a property company, but is looking for other work after being told she needed to be in the office every day.

"My current view of the jobs market is bleak, I am seeing very few part-time and flexible jobs," she says.

"Some job ads say they are flex but I don't feel convinced after what has just happened to me."

Mr Wilson says a new Employment Bill is needed to improve security for part-time workers and to "strengthen people's rights to work flexibly".

A Department for Business spokeswoman said the government was "wholeheartedly committed to protecting and enhancing workers' rights".

It said it had set up the Flexible Working Taskforce to "properly understand the changes in ways of working that are emerging as a result of the pandemic".

"We are also taking forward plans to consult on making flexible work the default, unless employers have good reasons not to," she added.

More on this story