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Secret agents: agency workers in the new world of work

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Author(s): Judge, Lindsay; Tomlinson, Daniel

Publisher: Resolution Foundation

Published: December 2016

Subjects: Employment

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This report uncovers new information about people employed as agency workers and finds two new groups – the permanent and the self-employed – who have been missing from previous accounts. It uses quantitative data from the Labour Force Survey and suggests areas for both qualitative and quantitative further research. There are an estimated 865,000 agency workers in the UK today with the number rising by over 200,000 since 2011, the equivalent of a 30% increase.  One of the key takeaways from this report is that the growing army of agency workers do not always conform to type. More than half consider themselves to be permanent rather than temporary, for example; many work in high-end industries; and the majority are not the low-skill migrants, stay-at-home mums or students that many suggest them to be. That said, this report shows that agency workers are disproportionately drawn from groups who suffer labour market disadvantage, are more concentrated in low-paid industries and cluster in lower- skilled jobs. Moreover, agency workers experience a significant pay penalty and there is little evidence to suggest that they accept this by choice. For many, agency work looks nothing like the nimble, modern way of working that it is sometimes presented to be.

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