Waged work in Britain is being transformed: permanent full-time jobs decline as precarious irregular task-based employment increases. This development is actively supported by government policy (labour market deregulation, the promotion of ‘flexibility’), to promote work as the sole route out of poverty. Using historical evidence, this article argues that, on the contrary, irregular employment was for long understood as a primary cause of poverty, not its cure. It thus generates high levels of social dependency. The UK’s earliest labour market policies sought to eradicate casual work and to encourage permanent employment – policies promoted assiduously for most of the twentieth century. [---]