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Almost 5 million Brits paid less than living wage

One in five workers earn too little to afford basic living standards.

4.82 million workers are forced to survive on less than the living wage, according to a study commissioned by KPMG.

Those working in hospitality were hit hardest, with 90 per cent of bar staff and 85 per cent of waiters not paid to living wage level, currently at £8.30 an hour in London and £7.20 for the rest of the UK.

At 24 per cent, Northern Ireland had the highest proportion of workers earning under £8.30, closely followed by Wales at 23 per cent. The South East and London had the lowest levels, with 16 per cent of workers earn short of living wage.

The living wage is used as the benchmark rate to show what a worker would need to afford basic living standards. Contrary to minimum wage, which is set at £6.19 for those aged 21 and over, the living wage is voluntary, meaning that employers are not legally obliged to pay it.

“This really lays bare the extent of the problem of low pay in Britain”, said Marianne Fallon, head of corporate affairs at KPMG.

“Times are difficult for many people, but of course those on the lowest pay are suffering the most”, she added.

Four out of ten low paid workers surveyed for the report felt that they are worse off now than one month ago, with nearly half (47 per cent) expecting to be in a worse financial condition this time next year.

Campaigners have complained that employers are failing to do enough to help those most vulnerable to a merciless double-dip recession.

“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”, declared Frances O’Grady, incoming secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

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

Alex Ward is a London-based freelance journalist who has previously worked for the Times & the Press Association. Twitter: @alexward3000

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.