Businessperson Deborah Meaden said on Twitter that people working “zero hours on zero-hours contracts” are employed. Zero-hours contracts lack a legal definition, but typically means one where no minimum hours are guaranteed.

The only case where a person can work no hours and be ‘employed’ is through being temporarily away from their job. However, those on zero-hours contracts do report working no hours (in the week before the survey) at a higher rate than others in employment.

Suggesting that the presence of zero-hours contracts reverses the unemployment trend is implausible.

In short

‘Zero hours on zero-hours contracts’: For a survey respondent to be classed as ‘employed’, they must either have worked at least one hour in the reference week, or been temporarily away from their jobs.

Estimated at 780,000: In April to June 2018, the estimated number of people on zero-hours contracts in their main job was 780,000, or 2.4% of all those in employment.

Higher rate of no actual hours: In April to June 2018, 16.4% of those on zero-hours contracts worked no actual hours in the week before their survey interview, compared to 8.6% of other workers.

‘Zero Hours’

On Twitter, Dragon’s Den star Deborah Meaden responded to the latest unemployment statistics:

That is if you assume that being on a zero hours contract and working zero hours is employment.

This statement was shared over 1,900 times.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) produces regular articles on contracts with no guaranteed minimum hours. The people classed by the Labour Force Survey as on a ‘zero-hours contract’ must be in employment, summarised as:

have done at least one hour of paid work in the week before they were interviewed or reported that they were temporarily away from their job.

The respondent must also report their main job involves flexibility, and recognise the ‘zero-hours contract’ term and definition (as in, know they could be offered no hours).

These people may have no contractual guarantee, but in practice, could work regular hours. 34% of those reporting being on zero-hours contract in their main job consider themselves to be full-time.

The latest available data suggests the estimated number of people on zero-hours contracts in their main jobs have fallen, from 901,000 (in October to December 2017) to 780,000 in April to June 2018. This is 2.4% of all those in employment.

The EMP17 dataset is updated biannually. (Source: ONS)

Actual and Usual Hours

Actual hours represent the hours that were actually worked. Usual hours are a measure how many hours people usually work, without holidays or other absences.

It is true workers mainly on zero-hours contracts show greater disparities between actual and usual hours, compared to other employment contracts:

A lower proportion on zero-hours contracts report actual working the same hours as usual, against other employment contracts. (Source: ONS)

In the latest surveys (April — June 2018), 128,000 people were estimated to have done no hours in the week before their survey interview, excluding those who did some work in other jobs:

The EMP17 dataset contains these estimates in Table 15. (Source: ONS)

Since that figure is about 0.4% of those in employment — and that rate has fallen — it is an implausible explanation for recent declines in unemployment.

Zero-hours contracts remain a contentious — but informed — issue.

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

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