Precarious employment and associations with health during COVID-19: a nationally representative survey in Wales, UK
Background The COVID-19 pandemic had an early impact on employment, with the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) experiencing more severe immediate labour market impacts than other Western countries. Emerging evidence from the initial phase of the pandemic highlighted that job losses were experienced more by those holding atypical contracts. Furthermore, it is predicted that this associated unemployment will increase precarious employment arrangements during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this paper we seek to answer the following research questions: I. What is the prevalence of precarious employment in Wales and are there differences in employment precariousness by socio-demographic characteristics and self-reported health status? II. Which domains are the main contributing factors of precarious employment in Wales? III. Which domains of precarious employment are associated with poorer health? IV. Haves there been changes in job quality (as reflected by precarious employment domains) during the COVID pandemic (between February 2020 and Winter 2020/2021)? Methods Data was collected from a national household survey carried out in May/June 2020, with a sample of 1,032 residents in Wales and follow-up responses from 429 individuals collected between November 2020 and January 2021. To examine the associations between experiencing precarious employment or the separate domains of employment precariousness and socio-demographics and health, chi-squared analyses and logistic regression models (multinomial and binary) were used. To determine longitudinal changes in precarious employment experienced by socio-demographic groups and furlough status, McNemars test was used. The data is presented as proportion of respondents or adjusted odds ratios (aOR) and 95% confidence intervals following logistic regression. Results Overall, pre-pandemic, one in four respondents were determined to be in precarious employment (26.5%). A higher proportion of females (28.3%) and those aged 18-29 years (41.0%) were in precarious employment in February 2020. In addition, a greater percentage of individuals who reported poorer health across all self-reported measures were in precarious employment compared to those reporting better health. Worse perceived treatment at work was twice as likely in those who reported a pre-existing condition (aOR 2.45 95% CI [1.33-4.49]), poorer general health (aOR 2.33 95% CI [1.22-4.47]) or low mental wellbeing (aOR 2.81 95% CI [1.34-5.88]) when compared to their healthier counterparts. Those calculated to have high wage precariousness were three times more likely to report low mental wellbeing (aOR 3.12 95% CI [1.54-6.32]). In the subsample, there was an observed increase in the prevalence of precarious employment, with this being attributable to lower affordability of wages and a perceived increase in vulnerability at work. The subgroups that were most impacted by this decrease in job quality were females and the 30-39 years age group. Implications Improving the vulnerability and wages domains, through the creation and provision of secure, adequately paid job opportunities has the potential to reduce the prevalence of precarious employment in Wales. In turn, these changes would improve the health and wellbeing of the working age population, some of which are already adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
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