General Election 2015: Was David Cameron right about zero hours contracts during Paxman clash?

 
Guy Bentley
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How many people on zero hours contracts want more hours? (Source: Getty)

David Cameron faced a harsh grilling from Jeremy Paxman last night with the former Newsnight presenter kicking off a tough round of questioning on food banks and zero hours contracts.

Paxman challenged the Prime Minister on how many of the jobs created during the coalition's time in office were zero hours contracts, to which Cameron responded "about one in 50 jobs are zero hours contracts".

Paxman moved seamlessly from the macro to the personal, repeatedly asking the PM whether he could live on a zero hours question. Cameron looking somewhat rattled and dodged the question but argued many people were choosing to be on zero hours contracts. He added that zero hours contracts were useful to people such as students who valued the flexibility the contracts gave them.

So to what extent is the PM right that zero hours contracts in Britain are primarily the choice of the employee for their convenience?

Just over two per cent of the workforce are on zero hours contracts. According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), people on these contracts "are more likely to be women, in full-time education or working part-time. They are also more likely to be aged under 25 or 65 and over."

These are the groups most likely to value flexibility in the workplace. The average number of hours worked for someone on a zero hours contract is 25. According to the ONS data, two-thirds of those people on zero hours contracts do not want more hours compared with one-third that do.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD), cited by the ONS, shows 47 per cent of workers on zero hours contracts compared with 27 per cent who were dissatisfied. However, most workers on these contracts aren't just satisfied with the absolute number of hours they work but also value the flexibility and work-life balance they achieve thanks to zero hours contracts.

[gauge value="47" title="Are you satisfied with your zero hours contract?" min="0" max="100" mintext="No" maxtext="Yes" label="Said Yes" sourceurl="http://www.cityam.com"; sponsoredname="City A.M."]

The CIPD conducted a survey of 2,500 workers and found that those on zero hours contracts were slightly happier with their employment situation than their peers in full-time work 60 per cent and 59 per cent respectively.

It's true that a third of people on zero hours want more work, but the evidence suggests Cameron is likley to be correct that most workers on these contracts choose them because it fits their circumstances, and they are happy with the arrangement.

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