contractMore than 300,000 people are employed on zero hours contracts in social care alone, according to new figures which show the practice is much more widespread than previously thought.

The revelation has fuelled demands from trade unions and think tanks for tighter regulation of the contracts, under which workers are put on standby without a guaranteed minimum number of hours.

Previously, the only official estimate of the number of employees on such contracts was a 200,000 figure by the Office for National Statistics, based on the Labour Force Survey used to compile the unemployment figures. Now Norman Lamb, the Care Minister, has told the Commons in a written reply that 307,000 workers in the care sector in England are employed on such a basis. He said the figures are not collected by the Department of Health but were obtained by Skills for Care, skills council for the social care sector. There is no breakdown between carers employed by local authorities and privately-run care homes or firms.

Commenting on the figures published today (Wednesday) by Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham MP,  TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

‘These shocking figures confirm what we have suspected all along – the rise in zero hours working is far greater than official reports suggest.

‘The fact that over 300,000 workers in the care sector alone are employed on these contracts reveals the true extent of this worrying trend. Social care is not the only sector to be experiencing high levels of zero hours contracts – higher education, legal services and journalism all have large numbers of people working on these insecure terms and conditions.

‘This rise in zero hours working is bad for employees and also for service users, many of whom are vulnerable adults. People want to see the same person whether it’s their regular carer or college tutor – something that is severely hindered by zero hours contracts.

‘Secure employment would allow staff to concentrate more on their jobs instead of having to worry from one to day to the next whether they will have any work or money to pay for food and bills.

‘The TUC welcomes the government’s current review of zero hours contracts. We will be asking ministers to consider introducing regulation to prevent their continued misuse.’