Tonight: Part time Britain

Not that long ago, there were dire predictions that unemployment would soar over 3 million and that the dole queue would get longer and longer.

But although the country has struggled to escape the downturn, the employment level has stayed surprisingly high.

One of the big reasons it is has stayed lower than feared is the continued rise of part time working.

More than eight million of us now work part time, not far off a third of the whole working population. Of course it is not unusual for people to choose to work part time, to juggle work and kids, or young people to take on casual jobs.

Gillian Fautley has had to take on three jobs after he husband's income fell Credit: ITV

But the country is changing its habits, and not always out of choice. We are now nearly at the stage where only half the work force has a traditional, permanent full time job. Official figures show more than three million people are now under-employed - they do have a job, but would love to work more hours. So in Tonight - Part Time Britain, we have explored what is going on.

Who are the people working part time? And has recession driven a more fundamental and permanent change to the way we work? We meet workers around the country with very different experiences.

At Thomas Stanley, a steel fabrication plant just outside Manchester, workers had no choice but to accept a cut to working just two days a week when the recession hit and orders dried up. They had to make 100 workers redundant in any case, but crucially managed to keep other staff on because they agreed to a reduction in hours and pay. Recent research shows one in three bosses have cut hours over the last few years. What is so tough for workers is of course that also means a cut in pay.

Laura Kuenssberg examines why so many of us are struggling to find enough work Credit: ITV

For many others, like Gillian Fautley from Southend, the reality of working part time makes life a frantic juggle. To keep a roof over her family's heads now her husband's earnings have fallen she works not one, not two, but three part time jobs. She would much rather be able to find a full time job, but for now she has to stretch herself because it is all the work she can get.

Graduate, Eleanor Smith, has been working unpaid for six months at London Zoo, it is her dream to work in animal conservation. But she can not find paid work in that field so juggles her full time internship without pay, with a part time job at a hairdresser. She is short of cash so has had to move back in with her mum and dad and is really worried about her future. By contrast, Marianne Fagents is a senior executive at Transport for London. Her boss agreed that she could work four days a week, instead of the traditional five, and it has given her the perfect work-life balance.

Eleanor Smith works part time as a hairdresser to make ends meet

There is little doubt that British workers' willingness to work part time has saved thousands of jobs. For others, who can afford it, reducing working hours is a way of finding a much better balance between work and home. Some experts argue that we should be proud of the new and growing flexibility of the work force, an asset for the country. For others, the move to part time and more short term contract working is an attack on workers' rights.

There is a very real debate about whether the changes we are seeing in Part Time Britain can afford people the same levels of security and stability more traditional working patterns used to provide. Hear much more in our programme tonight.

On Tonight - Part Time Britain at 7.30 on ITV 1 hear different workers' stories, and it is well worth seeing how Gillian juggles her three different jobs!