Estimating zero-hours contracts

The method changes, but the overall estimate is similar.

Anthony B. Masters

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Aeons ago in 2013, zero-hours contracts were a political focal point. Zero-hours contracts are employment which offers no set hours of work.

The question arises: how many people are on this kind of contract? The Office for National Statistics asks a flexible working question in labour surveys:

Some people have special working hours arrangements that vary daily or weekly. In your (main) job is your agreed working arrangement any of the following…

Respondents can say they are on a “zero hours contract” or eight other options. There are two different measures of people on zero hours contracts. The lower measure is only if it is someone’s ‘main’ employment.

FLEXD10 measures when a zero-hours contract is the main work arrangement. (Image: ONS)

If someone has a zero hours contract, analysts consider them employed — even if they did not work in that week. This classification matches international definitions.

The Labour Force Survey asks people about their jobs. Employees on this kind of contract may not have recognised the technical term. There was likely under-reporting of zero hours contracts by respondents:

Comparisons with 2012 and earlier years are complicated by a large increase between 2012 and 2013 that appeared to be due mainly…

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Anthony B. Masters

This blog looks at the use of statistics in Britain and beyond. It is written by RSS Statistical Ambassador and Chartered Statistician @anthonybmasters.