One in five workers paid less than the living wage: five questions answered

Bar staff, waiters, retail assistants.

A new report from KPMG has revealed nearly five million people receive less than the recommended living wage. We answer five questions on this latest report.

What is the Living Wage?

It’s a rate established as a recommended minimum wage for a basic standard of living and is roughly £1 more than the national minimum wage. In London the recommended Living Wage is £8.30 an hour and in the rest of the UK it’s £7.20.

Why are nearly £5 million people paid less than the recommended Living Wage?

The rate is voluntary unlike the national minimum wage (£6.19 for those over 21) which is law, so employees can request the rate but there is nothing to make an employee pay it.

In what industries do many of these five million people work?

The report says 90 per cent of bar staff and 85 per cent of waiters and waitresses do not get the minimum recommended Living Wage and around 780,000 sales and retail assistants are also missing out.

What areas are the worst affected?

According to the report Northern Ireland has the highest proportion of people earning below the Living Wage with 24% of workers receiving less, followed by Wales at with 23%, with London and the South East of England the lowest, both at 16%.In terms of total numbers, London, the North West of England and the South East of England had the most.

What do the officials say?

Frances O'Grady, the incoming general secretary of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), told the BBC: "It is shocking that in this day and age, one in five workers is still earning less than is needed to maintain a decent standard of living.

"The living wage is not a luxury, and means that low-paid workers do not have to make tough choices over whether they can afford the everyday things that most of us take for granted, such as their fuel bill or a winter coat for their children.

"Many more employers could afford to adopt the living wage, and we hope that many more decide to pay it in the coming months. Now more than ever is the time for employers to put an end to poverty pay."

The wages of bar staff fall short. Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

Photo: Getty
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Brexiteers want national sovereignty and tighter borders – but they can't have both

The role of the European Court of Justice is a major sticking point in talks.

Why doesn't Theresa May's counter-offer on the rights of European citizens living and working in Britain pass muster among the EU27? It all comes down to one of the biggest sticking points in the Brexit talks: the role of the European Court of Justice.

The European Commission, under direction from the leaders of member states, wants the rights of the three million living here and of the British diaspora in the EU guaranteed by the European Court. Why? Because that way, the status of EU citizens here or that of British nationals in the EU aren't subject to the whims of a simple majority vote in the legislature.

This is where Liam Fox, as crassly he might have put it, has a point about the difference between the UK and the EU27, being that the UK does not "need to bury" its 20th century history. We're one of the few countries in the EU where political elites get away with saying, "Well, what's the worst that could happen?" when it comes to checks on legislative power. For the leaders of member states, a guarantee not backed up by the European Court of Justice is no guarantee at all.

That comes down to the biggest sticking point of the Brexit talks: rules. In terms of the deal that most British voters, Leave or Remain, want – a non-disruptive exit that allows the British government to set immigration policy – UK politicians can get that, provided they concede on money and rules, ie we continue to follow the directions of the European Court while having no power to set them. Britain could even seek its own trade deals and have that arrangement.

But the problem is that deal runs up against the motivations of the Brexit elite, who are in the main unfussed about migration but are concerned about sovereignty – and remaining subject to the rule of the ECJ without being able to set its parameters is, it goes without saying, a significant loss of sovereignty. 

Can a fudge be found? That the Article 50 process goes so heavily in favour of the EU27 and against the leaving member means that the appetite on the EuCo side for a fudge is limited. 

But there is hope, as David Davis has conceded that there will have to be an international guarantor, as of course there will have to be. If you trade across borders, you need a cross-border referee. If a plane goes up in one country and lands in another, then it is, by necessity, regulated across borders. (That arrangement has also been mooted by Sigmar Gabriel, foreign minister in Angela Merkel's government. But that Gabriel's centre-left party looks likely to be expelled from coalition after the next election means that his support isn't as valuable as many Brexiteers seem to think.)

On the Conservative side, a new EU-UK international body would satisfy the words of May's ECJ red line. On the EU27 side, that the body would, inevitably, take its lead from the treaties of the EU sans Britain and the ECJ would mean that in spirit, Britain would be subject to the ECJ by another name.

But it comes back to the Brexit dilemma. You can satisfy the voters' demand for non-disruptive control of British borders. You can satisfy political demand for sovereignty. But you can't have both. May – and whoever replaces her – will face the same question: who do you disappoint?

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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