One of the purposes of this blog is catch potentially useful data points, and Polly Toynbee provides one in a Guardian article today about the number of agency workers in the UK. Agency workers are among the most vulnerable in the workforce, with the most limited rights, typically working in the worst parts of the service sector.

Toynbee notes that ‘the Labour Force Survey finds only 250,000 agency workers, but the Recruitment and Employment Confederation [REC] claims the agencies it represents have 1 million people working for them.’  She concludes from this that there is a gap of 750,000 people in agency work but not legal. This seems likely to be overstated; the REC will overclaim to promote its status, and the same workers are likely to be on the books of multiple agencies andwould therefore be double counted.

But the gap is clearly there – such over-stating of numbers would not account for 750,000 workers. Approaching it the other way around; there are 29m people recorded as being in employment in the UK (ONS March 2007). What are the chances of a further 1% (290,000) working illegally in service jobs? Or 2% (580,000)?

As Sir Robin Wales of Newham says (quoted in the Guardian article), we’d find out a lot sooner if local authorities were given the task of employment inspection – and incentivised by keeping a share of the fines.

So who are the extra 750,000 agency workers, hidden from the official figures?,,2087862,00.html