The study warns that millions could be “locked out of work” as more part-time workers are placed on furlough and are returning to normal hours at a slower rate than full-time employees. 

A new report by Timewise, a social consultancy, has warned of the way part-time employees have been and will continue to be disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Quoting from official figures, half of the UK’s part-time workforce were recorded as being “temporarily away from work” – mainly describing people who were furloughed – compared to just a third of staff who work full-time.

In addition to this, almost half of the part-time workers furloughed (44 per cent) were still recorded as being away from work in July-September 2020.

Again, this was only the case for a third of full-time workers (33.6 per cent), revealing that part-time workers are returning to normal working arrangements more slowly.

The post-pandemic outlook also appears to be difficult with less than one in 10 jobs (8 per cent) mentioning part-time possibilities.

The rates of part-time employment have fallen to the lowest level since 2010 (24 per cent) with the share of women in part-time work falling to its lowest since records began.

Many workers within this group described their feelings of “clinging onto disappearing jobs”.

Timewise suggested that whilst the labour market appeared to be recovering, this actually masks a crisis for those who need part-time work – and women in particular.

As such, the report makes recommendations for solving this issue, including:

  • The right to ask for flexible working from day one: Creating legislation to formalise employees’ right to ask for flexible work without having to wait 26 weeks.
  • Incentivising flexible working through job creation: Ensure government funded employer creation schemes such as the green jobs deal, include requirements for new jobs to be flexible.
  • Providing better employment support for flex job seekers: Ensure that job brokerage schemes such as the government’s flagship Restart programme, provide bespoke support to job seekers who need flexible work so they have a fairer chance of finding it.
  • Launch a challenge fund for flexible work: Targeted at supporting a sector led approach to designing better quality part-time and flexible roles in industries where it is more operationally complex.

Tony Wilson, Director of Institute for Employment Studies says:

This crisis has seen part-time employment fall at its fastest rate in at least thirty years, while the share of women working part-time has dropped to its lowest since records began.  We think that there are two things driving this.

First, part-time workers have been hit harder by successive lockdowns, with today’s research showing that they have also benefited less when lockdowns have ended.  But secondly, we’ve seen more part-time workers take on full-time hours, either to make up for lost earnings from a partner or because they’re in the frontline of the pandemic, particularly in the NHS.

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.  Today’s report also provides more evidence for why we need a new Employment Bill, to improve security for part time workers and strengthen people’s rights to work flexibly.


*On behalf of Timewise, the Institute of Employment Studies conducted analysis drawing on both the longitudinal Labour Force Survey and the standard Labour Force Survey. This is outlined in the report entitled ‘The Impact of COVID-19 on part-time employees”.