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Almost Two-Fifths of Working Adults Given Less Than a Week’s Notice of Working Hours

Close to two-fifths (37%) of UK workers in full or part-time employment are given less than a week's notice of their shifts or work patterns, according to new research conducted by the Living Wage Foundation. 

The research – based on two surveys, of over 2,000 UK adults in each case[1] – addresses a gap in the UK’s labour market data and understanding of hours insecurity, being the first recent study to assess notice periods for work schedules across the workforce.[2]  

The study found that among the 59% of workers whose job involves variable hours or shift work, over three-fifths (62%) reported having less than a week's notice of their work schedules. At the extreme, 12% of this group – amounting to 7% all working adults – had less than 24 hours' notice.  

While short notice periods affect workers throughout the UK, they are particularly common in London, where almost half (48%) of all workers received less than a week’s notice of work schedules. Scotland (35%), the South of England excluding London (34%), and the North of England (33%)  are areas where short notice periods were less common.  

A second survey conducted by the Living Wage Foundation homed in on the experience of full-time, low-paid workers, finding that they were particularly hard hit by short notice of working hours. Of those working full time and paid below the real Living Wage of £10.85 in London and £9.50 in the rest of the UK, more than half (55%) had less than a week’s notice of work schedules, with 15% having less than 24 hours’ notice. Low-paid, full-time workers from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds[3] (68% of whom had less than a week’s notice of work patterns) and those with children (64%) were also disproportionately affected. 

Despite this, and the challenges facing many employees and businesses, some employers are stepping up to commit to stronger standards on shift patterns to better support workers and families. This includes Scottish energy provider SSE, which has today been announced as an accredited Living Hours Employer, joining, amongst others, Aviva and Standard Life Aberdeen as employers committing to provide workers with secure, guaranteed working hours.  

The Living Hours programme requires employers to both pay a real Living Wage and commit to provide at least 4 weeks’ notice for every shift, with guaranteed payment if shifts are cancelled within this notice period. Living Hours employers also provide a guaranteed minimum of 16 working hours every week (unless the worker requests otherwise), and a contract that accurately reflects hours worked. 

The Foundation’s research shows that currently just 10% of workers who have variable working hours or conduct shift work received at least four weeks’ notice of shift patterns.  

Laura Gardiner, Director, Living Wage Foundation, said: 

“Without clear notice of shift patterns provided in good time, millions of workers have had to make impossible choices on childcare, transport and other important aspects of family life. Low-paid workers have been particularly hard hit during the pandemic, with millions struggling to plan their lives due to the double whammy of changing restrictions on economic activity and insufficient notice of work schedules from employers. 

Despite this, and the challenges many employers have faced, some have stepped up during this crisis and committed to provide workers with secure, guaranteed hours and notice of shift patterns. These are the businesses that will help us rebuild and recover, and we encourage more employers to follow their example.” 

John Stewart, SSE HR Director, said:  

“The real Living Wage movement has been an incredible phenomenon, championing the fundamental truth that people should be able earn enough to live a decent life. 

Living Hours is the other side of that coin. The amount of pay employees take home can be affected by irregular and unpredictable hours. The majority of our direct employees are already on contracts which meet the Living Hours requirements, but it is right that a company like SSE, headquartered in the UK and delivering some of the biggest projects in the fight against climate change, should guarantee higher standards for workers.

This is fundamental to ensuring there is a fair and just transition to net zero. Like with our Living Wage accreditation, the most important impact of Living Hours is that, in time, it will flow through our supply chain activities and benefit those working regularly on our behalf too. It is the right thing to do and we are very proud to have achieved this accreditation and hope it will help show others the way.” 

Lynn Anderson, Living Wage Scotland, said:

There are over 1900 Scottish-based employers that are committed to paying at least the real Living Wage, and it’s fantastic to see SSE and 1st Alliance Credit union take additional steps to protect their workers from low pay and insecure work by becoming Living Hours accredited.

The values that led these employers to commit to the real Living Wage are the same values that have led to their expanded commitment to fair work at a time when workers need it most.”

Peter Kelly, Director of the Poverty Alliance, said:

Congratulations to the employers confirmed today as Living Hours accredited, including SSE & 1st Alliance Credit union.”

Even before the pandemic, too many workers were locked in low paid and insecure jobs. Living Hours alongside a real Living Wage are practical ways in which businesses can take action to help ensure our recovery is based on principles of fair work; redesigning jobs to loosen the grip of poverty in Scotland.”

Notes to editors 

[1] The two surveys were conducted by Survation. The first polled 2,128 adults working full-time and earning less than the Living Wage and was carried out between 03-14 December 2020. The second survey polled 2,232 UK adults in the UK between 25 March-10 April 2021. 

[2] A previous study conducted by the CIPD in 2019 captured some similar information on notice periods for work schedules from a small sample of employers, but no similar recent evidence from workers has been captured. 

[3] While we recognise the importance of assessing the particular experiences of different racialised communities, the sample used for the research was not large enough to enable detailed analysis within the group of workers from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. 


For more information and any further enquiries, please contact: 


About Living Hours 

The campaign for a real Living Wage has ensured hundreds of thousands of workers are earning a wage they can live on, not just the government minimum. But millions of low paid workers are also struggling to get the hours they need to make ends meet. That’s why the Living Wage Foundation has developed a new standard of what good looks like for those employers that can offer ‘Living Hours’ alongside a real Living Wage. 

Living Hours is a new standard that sets out what good looks like. It calls on employers to provide the right to: 

  • Decent notice periods for shifts: of at least 4 weeks’ notice, with guaranteed payment if shifts are cancelled within this notice period. 

  • A right to a contract with living hours: the right to a contract that reflects accurate hours worked, and a guaranteed minimum of 16 hours a week (unless the worker requests otherwise) 

Living Hours employers include SSE, Aviva, Standard Life Aberdeen, Datagraphic and 1st Alliance Credit Union 

15th April 2021
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