Austerity has increased insecurity in both work and welfare benefit payments; instability has become an intrinsic part of many people’s experiences. Work is no longer a guarantee of stability. Half of the people in poverty in the UK, over 6 million people, are now in working households[i]. This period of austerity has lead to poor people in work out-numbering poor people out of work for the first time[ii]. An increasingly precarious workforce finds itself moving back and forth between insecure work and insecure benefits, with sanctions underpinning an increasingly punitive system. The number of financial penalties (‘sanctions’) imposed on benefit claimants by the Department of Work and Pensions now exceeds the number of fines imposed by the courts[iii].
The costs to mental health
Insecurity, both personal and material, is known to be central to mental distress[iv]. It is well established that job insecurity leads to poor mental health outcomes[v][vi][vii], independently of income or occupation level[viii], and is as detrimental to mental health as unemployment[ix]. Insecurity at a community level has also been found to feed into individual distress, in particular a feeling that authorities are unreliable or cannot be trusted to look after the interests of an area[x].
Case study 3: Zero hours contracts.
Jobs are increasingly insecure. The number of zero hour contracts continues to rise. 697,000 people were employed on zero hours contracts in December 2014, comprising a job with no guarantee of work or pay[xi]. This number has increased fourfold since the beginning of austerity in 2010[xii]. The most recent estimate is that 1.8 million people in Britain are on contracts without guaranteed hours, of various kinds[xiii]. It is also estimated that 22% of UK workers earn less than the living wage, up from 20% in 2012[xiv]. Robust research has established that job insecurity has damaging effects on both individual employees, and organisations[xv]. The more insecure the job, the higher levels of mental distress and physical health complaints found in employees[xvi]. Job insecurity leads to higher levels of strain, worsened job performance, and increased sickness[xvii]. In addition, jobs which are characterised by low status and high levels of strain, along with insecurity, are as damaging to mental and physical health as unemployment[xviii].
Case study 4: Housing
Punitive austerity policies combined with an out of control housing market, have also lead to people being uprooted from their homes. The BBC suggests that around 30,000 people have been forced to move following the implementation of the bedroom tax[xix]. Since 2010, there has been an estimated 37% increase in rough sleeping in England[xx]. The numbers being made homeless following a private tenancy has also doubled over the same period, indicating severe insecurity in the private renting sector[xxi]. It is well known that people on low incomes tend to be tend to have smaller, denser, and more localised support networks[xxii]. Being forced to move from established communities therefore is likely to be particularly problematic and a risk to mental wellbeing.
[i] MacInnes, T., Aldridge, H., Bushe, S., Tinson, A., Born, T. B. (2013). Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion 2014. London: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
[ii] MacInnes, T., Aldridge, H., Bushe, S., Tinson, A., Born, T. B. (2013). Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion 2014. London: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
[iii] Webster D (2015) Benefit sanctions: Britain’s secret penal system http://www.crimeandjustice.org.uk/resources/benefit-sanctions-britains-secret-penal-system
[iv] Shinn, M., & Weitzman, B. C. (1996). Homeless families are different.Homelessness in America, 109-122; Buckner, J. C. (2008). Understanding the impact of homelessness on children challenges and future research directions. American Behavioral Scientist, 51(6), 721-736.
[v] McDonaugh, P. (2000). Job insecurity and health, International Journal of Health Services, 30, 3, 453-476.
[vi] Sverke, M., Hellgren, J., Näswall, K. (2002). No security: A meta-analysis and review of job insecurity and its consequences,
Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 7, 3, 242-264.
[vii] Virtanen, M., Kivimekil, M., Joensuu, M., Virtanen, P., Elovanio, M., Vahtera, J. (2005). Temporary employment and health: a review, International Journal of Epidemiolology , 34, 3, 610-622.
[viii] De Witte (1999). Job Insecurity and Psychological Well-being: Review of the Literature and Exploration of Some Unresolved Issues, European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 155-177.
[ix] De Witte (1999). Job Insecurity and Psychological Well-being: Review of the Literature and Exploration of Some Unresolved Issues, European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 155-177.
[x] Rogers, A., Huxley, P., Thomas, R., Robson, B,, Evans, S., Stordy, J., Gately, C. (2000). Evaluating the impact of a locality based social
policy intervention on mental health: conceptual and methodological issues, International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 47 (4), 41-55
[xi] ONS (2015). Release: Contracts with no guaranteed hours, Zero hours contracts, 2014. London: ONS.
[xii] ONS (2014). Zero Hours Analysis. London: ONS.
[xiii] ONS (2015). Release: Contracts with no guaranteed hours, Zero hours contracts, 2014. London: ONS.
[xiv] Kennedy, J., Moore, T., Fiddes, A. (2014). Living Wage Research for KPMG: Structural Analysis of Hourly Wages and Current Trends in Household Finances. Markit Group Limited.
[xv] Johnny Hellgren , Magnus Sverke & Kerstin Isaksson (1999) A Two-dimensional Approach to Job Insecurity: Consequences for Employee Attitudes and Well-being, European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 8, 2, 179-195
[xvi]Ashford, S.J., Lee, C., & Bobko, P. (1989). Content, causes, and consequences of job insecurity: A theory-based measure and substantive test. Academy of Management Journal, 4, 803–829.
[xvii]Hartley, J., Jacobson, D., Klandermans, B., & van Vuuren, T. (1991). Job insecurity: Coping with jobs at risk. London: Sage.
[xviii]Broom, D. H., D’Souza,R. M., Strazdins, L., Butterworth, P., Parslow, R., Rodgers, B. (2006). The lesser evil: Bad jobs or unemployment? A survey of mid-aged Australians, Social Science and Medicine, 63, 3, 575–586.
[xix] BBC, 28 March 2014: Housing benefits: Changes ‘see 6% of tenants move’.
[xx] Department of Communities and Local Government. (2014). Rough sleeping statistics England: Autumn 2013. London: DCLG.
[xxi] http://www.homeless.org.uk/facts/homelessness-in-numbers/statutory-homelessness. 14% of applications in 2010; 29% of applications in 2014.
[xxii] Haung, G., Tausig, M. (1990). Network range in personal networks, Social Networks, 12, 3, 261-268.