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An unequal crisis

6 August 2020

An unequal crisis [ 0.79 mb]

Why workers need better enforcement of their rights.

This report summarises the redundancy problems we’re supporting people with in this jobs crisis. Most employers want to do the right thing, even in these difficult times. But a picture is emerging in our data that many are not. We set out evidence on three key areas of employment rights in the redundancy process where we are concerned: fair redundancy processes, automatically unfair reasons for redundancy, and discrimination.

1 in 6 (17%) of the working population are facing redundancy. But our findings show this crisis is also being faced unequally:

  • 1 in 4 disabled people (27%) are facing redundancy, rising to 37% for those people whose disability has a substantial impact on their activities
  • 1 in 2 people who are extremely clinically vulnerable to coronavirus (48%) are facing redundancy
  • 2 in 5 people with caring responsibilities (39%), either for children or vulnerable adults, are facing redundancy
  • 3 in 10 people with children under 18 (31%) are facing redundancy, compared to less than 1 in 10 (7%) of those who don’t have children under 18.


Demand for our advice relating to people’s rights at work is soaring. The number of clients we’re providing support to for issues with selection for redundancy has soared by 370%, while demand for our advice pages on fair redundancy processes has increased by over four times.

Given the nature of the crisis, discrimination is of particular concern. Employers have had to transform their workplaces to make them safe for people to return to. These changes have often needed to be particularly dramatic for people who are vulnerable or extremely vulnerable to coronavirus. Employers may have to put additional measures in place or offer different roles entirely for people who face higher risk. Similarly, many people have greater caring responsibilities than ever before, with inevitable spillovers into their work. These factors may explain why certain groups are at such higher risk of redundancy.

1 in 8 employees working outside the home think their employer has not put adequate measures in place to keep them safe from coronavirus. Our advisers are seeing worrying cases where pregnant women feel they have been selected for redundancy because they need more stringent health and safety measures and employers offering replacement roles which disabled workers feel they cannot do safely. Demand for our discrimination advice pages has increased four-fold.

We are facing the worst jobs crisis for a generation. Employment rights have never been more important, but also never more difficult to enforce. While funding for certain agencies has increased - the net funding for enforcing workers’ rights has declined by £120m in the last ten years, with funding for the Equality and Human Rights Commission alone three times lower than it was in 2009/10. The main alternative route for enforcing your rights at work - taking your employer to an employment tribunal - is also likely to be extremely difficult, as the tribunal system has been highly disrupted during the pandemic. Going into this crisis, there was a backlog of 400,000 cases, which will only increase with the scale of redundancies we face.

The government has rightly recognised that the enforcement system in the UK is in need of reform. Last year, it committed to ending the fragmentation by establishing a Single Enforcement Body for employment rights. People need a single point of access where they can go and expect to have their rights enforced. We recommend that the government:

  • Fast track its plan for setting up a single enforcement body, with the powers and resources needed to act as an effective defender of people’s rights at work
  • While that body is set up, invest emergency funding into the existing enforcement bodies, to ensure people are treated fairly during this unprecedented crisis.