A significant proportion of our clients were engaged in work arrangements with a low degree of formality. Over a third of them did not have written confirmation of payment, which comes in the form of a payslip for those employed, or an invoice for the self-employed. A similar rate of informality characterised their access to written terms of agreement and the mode of payment.
It is important to note that while this does not constitute an illegality, and the law makes it clear that the absence of written terms does not preclude the right to employment protections, informal work arrangements can make it harder to build a case. This is particularly salient in disputes over non-payment, where clients’ abilities to claim unpaid wages and fees depend upon their abilities to demonstrate entitlement.
The majority of our clients had changed jobs at least once in the 12 months since they saw us, particularly in the case of the self-employed, who rarely worked on a single contract for a year. Job changes may be an active choice, for those who take up positions which are better paid, closer to home, or more convenient. However, frequent job changes can also constitute a source of insecurity, particularly when coupled with low incomes.
A significant proportion of our clients worked over the 48h a week stipulated by the Working Time Regulations. While this does not constitute an illegality as long as workers’ consent is obtained, and some workers actively choose this schedule, working overtime can have a negative effect upon workers’ physical and mental health, family life, as well as the ability to socialise, relax, or learn new skills.
The average gross monthly pay was approximately £1.8k for men, and £1.1 for women. This is a significant gender discrepancy, amplified by the fact that women not only earned less than men, but also lower than the £1.2 National Living Wage (NLW).
Furthermore, it is important to remember that while men appear to earn more than the NLW, this does not account for the number of dependents. We are planning on nuancing these findings at our next quarterly update.
Most of our clients were self-employed, followed by those who were workers or employees. It is also notable that for a section of our clients the status was unclear, or kept under the radar of the fiscal authority by unscrupulous employers who sought to cut their National Insurance liabilities by under-declaring their staff – this is what we refer to as black market work. Given the intrinsic connection between employment status and employment rights, the absence of a clear status can constitute an important source of insecurity.
The majority of our clients lived in informal housing arrangements by subletting a room without a tenancy agreement, living with friends, and sleeping rough. This is an important finding. Renting without the protections of a tenancy agreement can make it difficult to access financial services, such as a personal loan or mortgage. For migrant families, informal housing arrangements can hinder the ability to prove a right to reside, particularly when coupled with informal work. More seriously, the absence of a tenancy agreement can expose families to short notice evictions, as well as the more mundane frictions over the right to use communal areas or utilities.
A significant proportion of our clients also shared their room. While sharing with one’s partner and children was most common, 1 in 10 clients shared with other non-related adults. Experienced long term, this lack of privacy can have a negative effect upon individuals’ mental health, as well as their abilities to start and sustain romantic relationships and a family life.
A majority of our clients did not know how to write a CV in English, and a significant proportion among them did not know how to write a CV at all.
Similarly, only a very small minority knew how to write a cover letter in English. This constitutes an important barrier to professional mobility, which we seek to address in person at the Employment Rights Clinic, as well as through a series of digital tools.
By contrast, levels of IT literacy were generally good. A majority of clients could use a computer, and two thirds also owned one. However, a significant minority among them could not use a computer at all. This is an important impediment before clients’ abilities to navigate the increasingly digital nature of employment justice.
As with levels of education, our clients’ levels of English were polarised. While a third among them reported being able to speak, understand, and write in English, more than one in three spoke very basic or no English at all.