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 Images
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There are risks as well as opportunities ahead for George Osborne

The Chancellor is in a tight spot, but expect his political wiles to be on full display, says Spencer Thompson.

The most significant fiscal event of this parliament will take place in late November, when the Chancellor presents the spending review setting out his plans for funding government departments over the next four years. This week, across Whitehall and up and down the country, ministers, lobbyists, advocacy groups and town halls are busily finalising their pitches ahead of Friday’s deadline for submissions to the review

It is difficult to overstate the challenge faced by the Chancellor. Under his current spending forecast and planned protections for the NHS, schools, defence and international aid spending, other areas of government will need to be cut by 16.4 per cent in real terms between 2015/16 and 2019/20. Focusing on services spending outside of protected areas, the cumulative cut will reach 26.5 per cent. Despite this, the Chancellor nonetheless has significant room for manoeuvre.

Firstly, under plans unveiled at the budget, the government intends to expand capital investment significantly in both 2018-19 and 2019-20. Over the last parliament capital spending was cut by around a quarter, but between now and 2019-20 it will grow by almost 20 per cent. How this growth in spending should be distributed across departments and between investment projects should be at the heart of the spending review.

In a paper published on Monday, we highlighted three urgent priorities for any additional capital spending: re-balancing transport investment away from London and the greater South East towards the North of England, a £2bn per year boost in public spending on housebuilding, and £1bn of extra investment per year in energy efficiency improvements for fuel-poor households.

Secondly, despite the tough fiscal environment, the Chancellor has the scope to fund a range of areas of policy in dire need of extra resources. These include social care, where rising costs at a time of falling resources are set to generate a severe funding squeeze for local government, 16-19 education, where many 6th-form and FE colleges are at risk of great financial difficulty, and funding a guaranteed paid job for young people in long-term unemployment. Our paper suggests a range of options for how to put these and other areas of policy on a sustainable funding footing.

There is a political angle to this as well. The Conservatives are keen to be seen as a party representing all working people, as shown by the "blue-collar Conservatism" agenda. In addition, the spending review offers the Conservative party the opportunity to return to ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ as a going concern.  If they are truly serious about being seen in this light, this should be reflected in a social investment agenda pursued through the spending review that promotes employment and secures a future for public services outside the NHS and schools.

This will come at a cost, however. In our paper, we show how the Chancellor could fund our package of proposed policies without increasing the pain on other areas of government, while remaining consistent with the government’s fiscal rules that require him to reach a surplus on overall government borrowing by 2019-20. We do not agree that the Government needs to reach a surplus in that year. But given this target wont be scrapped ahead of the spending review, we suggest that he should target a slightly lower surplus in 2019/20 of £7bn, with the deficit the year before being £2bn higher. In addition, we propose several revenue-raising measures in line with recent government tax policy that together would unlock an additional £5bn of resource for government departments.

Make no mistake, this will be a tough settlement for government departments and for public services. But the Chancellor does have a range of options open as he plans the upcoming spending review. Expect his reputation as a highly political Chancellor to be on full display.

Spencer Thompson is economic analyst at IPPR