More than one in five workers are now being paid less than the “real” living wage, according to new research from the Living Wage Foundation.
An analysis of Office for National Statistics data found that nearly 3 million full-time and 3.3 million part-time jobs are paying an hourly rate lower than that needed to cover the cost of living – £10.20 an hour in London and £8.75 elsewhere.
The total number of jobs failing to meet the “real” living wage has increased by 300,000 since last year to over six million, the charity said, including more than a quarter of workers in Northern Ireland, East Midlands, Wales, Yorkshire and Humber and the North East.
Women are also being disproportionately affected by low income, with 28% of all female workers paid below the cost of living, the research found.
Director of the Living Wage Foundation, Tess Lanning, said that “people are struggling to keep their heads above water on wages that don’t meet the basic costs and pressures of everyday life”.
Responding to the figures, Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, told the Independent: “This is further evidence that the Tories are creating a deeply unfair economy, one based on exploiting low-wage workers who are trapped in insecure employment.”
Jenny Baskerville, of consultants KPMG, added: “Clearly more needs to be done if we are to make real traction in ensuring that all workers are fairly valued for their contribution to the economy.”
The Institute of Employment Rights argues that the problem lies largely in the current framework of labour law, which allows employers to hire workers on zero-hour contracts or through recruitment agencies and get away with affording them fewer rights as a result.
A concerted attack on trade union rights, most recently through the Trade Union Act 2016, has also put obstacles in the paths of those who are fighting for a fair wage for all. Over 35 years of anti-trade union legislation has led to a decline in collective bargaining coverage to under a quarter of workers compared with an EU average of 60%.
In our latest report Rolling out the Manifesto for Labour Law, which gained the support of the Labour Party as well as the labour movement, our experts made 25 recommendations for reform.
Those proposals included ones taken forward by John McDonnell, such as the establishment of a government department for workers, the reinstatement of sectoral collective bargaining, replacing the Minimum Wage – rebranded as the National Living Wage, by the Conservative Party – with a Real Living Wage, and introducing a universal status of “worker” that affords all people in employment with the full suite of rights from day one.