UCL Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science


Assessment of the Scale and Nature of Labour Market Non-compliance in the UK

A mixed methods study which maps the breadth and depth of labour market non-compliance and other key labour market abuses experienced by precarious workers in the UK.


This project has been commissioned by the Director of Labour Market Enforcement to support her statutory obligation to provide an assessment of the scale and nature of labour market non-compliance in the UK and to enable more evidence-informed policy and practice in this space. The research is being co-funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The study will run from June 2022 until December 2024 and will cover all of the UK’s four nations.


Our project is designed to provide a strong evidence-base on labour market non-compliance in the UK. Our primary aim is to establish the scale, nature and correlates of precarious workers’ experiences of labour market non-compliance.

Our complementary secondary aims are: (1) to disentangle precarious workers’ experiences of non-compliance and examine its interplay with harmful practices at work; and (2) to improve understanding of precarious workers’ access to justice, identifying whether, when and how they are able to exercise their rights and, if not, why not.

Outreach and oversight

This project benefits from the support of six advisory groups and one steering group. These groups will help inform the direction and design of the research, provide oversight and accountability, enrich our interpretations of findings and further explore their implications for efforts to reduce risk and harm. With the help of Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX), one of these groups will be made up of people in precarious work, whose valuable practical experience will help shape the research throughout. The remaining groups involve other key constituencies for this research: policy-makers and practitioners; employers and employer representatives; worker representatives; legal experts; and labour abuse academics.


The cornerstone of our project is the unique opportunity to access a representative sample of people in precarious work via the Understanding Society (US) survey. The US survey will be used to recruit precarious workers, a population that is likely to be at higher risk of experiencing labour market non-compliance. This initial sample will be asked to refer acquaintances who can also be considered precarious workers, thus adding a novel respondent-driven sampling methodology. These samples will enable us to provide nuanced and credible breakdowns relating to particular segments of the precarious worker population, according to demographic, social, geographic, industrial characteristics, and so on. Overall, the data gathered via these worker surveys will enable varied, nuanced and sophisticated analyses of the scale and nature of non-compliance among people in precarious work across the UK.

To complement and balance the survey’s quantitative approach, we will include a careful selection of qualitative elements to add depth and nuance. Based on their responses to the survey, select participants will be invited to participate in in-depth interviews and focus groups. Based on the survey results, we will also conduct focus groups with employers from certain industries where certain forms of non-compliance appeared more rampant. This qualitative branch of the project will help disentangle the multi-faceted landscape within which non-compliance occurs, examine its overlap with other work-based harms, and explore barriers and facilitating factors affecting precarious workers’ ability to exercise their labour rights.

As a fully-integrated mixed-methods study, various elements of the design will inform, strengthen and build upon one another. The survey results will influence the sampling strategy and thematic focus of the in-depth interviews and focus groups, while the focus groups will help in interpreting and contextualising the survey findings and developing their implications for policy and practice. There have been precious few studies of the labour market that combine methods (survey, interviews, focus groups) in this way hence, providing a more holistic understanding of labour market non-compliance, potentially leading to otherwise unattainable insights into the ‘causal mosaic’ of risk, harm and access to justice, informing policy and practice.

Core project team

Principal Investigators:


Research assistants:

Foundational research

The current project builds upon two foundational projects conducted by our team for the Director of Labour Market Enforcement. The first was a scoping study of how best to assess the scale and nature of labour market non-compliance in the UK (Cockbain et al., 2019). The second was a quantitative analysis of the changing scale and nature of precarious work in the UK, using data from the Understanding Society survey (Pósch et al., 2021). It was completed in 2020 and later published with a 2021 update that covered two new data waves over the main pandemic period. These early scoping studies have been endorsed in successive Directors’ strategies and have closely informed the development and design of the new project. 

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