The number of workers on zero-hours contracts in the UK has reached 1.4 million, according to official estimates by the Office for National Statistics, leading to renewed calls for the government to provide safeguards for those without guaranteed hours or pay.

The statistics also revealed that the type of people most likely to be employed on ‘zero-hours contracts’ are women, people in full-time education or in the 16 to 24 and over 65 age groups, who work in the tourism, catering and food sectors.

Last year, the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, announced that he was not considering a complete ban on zero-hours contracts as in the government’s view they give employers greater flexibility in their workforce, but he did open a consultation the results from which are anticipated later this year.

Stephen Cavalier, chief executive of Thompsons, said: “These statistics are shocking and its high-time that the government actually did something about the exploitation that zero hours contracts represent. Their sham consultation offers no solution to the problem.

“What is particularly worrying is the type of people affected by zero-hours contracts, namely some of society’s more vulnerable groups, who are then tied to employers with no guarantee of work or pay.

“The government should be taking urgent steps to protect workers not giving employers yet more opportunities to exploit their workforce."

Thompsons' response to the government's consultation can be found here.