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Does the zero in 50 stand for zero hours?

19 March 2020 #Employment

A recent analysis of figures produced by the Office of National Statistics shows that there has been a significant increase in the number of 50 plus year olds who are on zero-hours contracts. The analysis, which was carried out by Rest Less, revealed that there had been a 52% rise in 50 plus year olds working zero-hours contracts from 2014 to 2019. The increase was however most dramatic amongst those aged 65 and over, with a 75% rise during the same period.

There are two sides of this coin, one where 50 plus year olds can be seen to be exercising choice to work on a zero-hours contract basis and one where 50 plus year olds are being given no choice but to work on this basis.

On the choice side, there are 50 plus year olds who are making the most of company efforts to reduce headcount by taking advantage of voluntary redundancy and voluntary early retirement schemes. They see it as an opportunity to transition towards full retirement or to integrate their work and their life in a way that they have never been able to do before. Some are even pursuing portfolio careers or combining self-employment with zero-hours working. This approach, which is mainly available to professional people, allows them to remain mentally active, improve their wellbeing, earn money to put off the day when they need to dip into retirement pots and begin to ramp up pursuit of the things they want to do in full retirement.

For others though, zero-hours is a no choice game. They will have been targeted by employers looking to reduce operating costs and they are finding it impossible to get back into full-time employment at 50 plus, maybe because their skills have not been developed over many years or maybe because this is wrongly perceived to be the case and/or they are being discriminated against by employers (but often perhaps not tangibly enough to bring a claim). They may be considered suitable for zero-hours work on the basis that they have the experience and attitude to contribute in the here and now, but they are judged not to have potential for the future to warrant a full-time employment opportunity. Their place in the “Flexible Firm” is then confined to zero-hours employment.

For those where zero-hours is not a choice, but a lifeline, these times will prove exceptionally trying. During this coronavirus outbreak zero-hours workers may fear missing out on Statutory Sick Pay if they become ill. For older workers, this falls alongside the knowledge that older people are likely to suffer more severely from the virus if they become infected. Generally, where zero-hours workers have earned an average of £118 per week in the past 8 weeks, they are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay. However, those who have not earned this amount or who have had to work multiple jobs to earn this amount, may instead need to rely on the measures announced by the Chancellor in the 2020 budget in order to get by. This includes relying on a new type of Employment and Support Allowance for those affected by coronavirus.

Another point for employers who engage zero-hours workers to note is the changes that come into force on 6th April 2020: namely, that both employees and workers now need to be provided with written particulars of employment/engagement from day one. Further details can be found here.

Clarkslegal, specialist Employment lawyers in London, Reading and throughout the Thames Valley.
For further information about this or any other Employment matter please contact Clarkslegal's employment team by email at by telephone 020 7539 8000 (London office), 0118 958 5321 (Reading office) or by completing the form on this page.
This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. Please refer to the full General Notices on our website.

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Amanda Glover

Amanda Glover
Employment Solicitor, Business Services Group

T: 01189 604 647
M: 07876 740 984


Employment team
+44 (0)118 958 5321