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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What price would the UK pay to stop Brexit?

The EU could end Britain's budget rebate and demand that we join the euro and the Schengen zone.

Among any group of Remain politicians, discussion soon turns to the likelihood of stopping Brexit. After Theresa May's electoral humbling, and the troubled start to the negotiations, those who oppose EU withdrawal are increasingly optimistic.

“I’m beginning to think that Brexit may never happen,” Vince Cable, the new Liberal Democrat leader, said recently. A growing number, including those who refuse to comment publicly, are of the same view. 

But conversation rarely progresses to the potential consequences of halting Brexit. The assumption that the UK could simply retain the status quo is an unsafe one. Much hinges on whether Article 50 is unilaterally revocable (a matter Britain might have been wise to resolve before triggering withdrawal.) Should the UK require the approval of the EU27 to halt Brexit (as some lawyers believe), or be forced to reapply for membership, Brussels would extract a price. 

Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, recently echoed French president Emmanuel Macron's declaration that “there is always a chance to reopen the door”. But he added: “Like Alice in Wonderland, not all the doors are the same. It will be a brand new door, with a new Europe, a Europe without rebates, without complexity, with real powers and with unity.”

The UK's £5bn budget rebate, achieved by Margaret Thatcher in 1984, has long been in the EU's sights. A demand to halt Brexit would provide the perfect pretext for its removal. 

As Verhofstadt's reference to “unity” implied, the UK's current opt-outs would also be threatened. At present, Britain (like Denmark) enjoys the right to retain its own currency and (like Ireland) an exemption from the passport-free Schengen travel zone. Were the UK to reapply for membership under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty, it would be automatically required to join the euro and to open its borders.

During last year's Labour leadership election, Owen Smith was candid enough to admit as much. “Potentially,” he replied when asked whether he would accept membership of the euro and the Schengen zone as the price of continued EU membership (a stance that would not have served Labour well in the general election.)

But despite the daily discussion of thwarting Brexit, politicians are rarely confronted by such trade-offs. Remaining within or rejoining the EU, like leaving, is not a cost-free option (though it may be the best available.) Until anti-Brexiteers acknowledge as much, they are vulnerable to the very charge they level at their opponents: that they inhabit a fantasy world. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.