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Coronavirus: A third of UK's key workers earn £10 or less per hour

Lianna Brinded
·Head of Yahoo Finance UK
·2-min read
Photo: by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images
Wages of key workers are 8% lower on average, according to IFS. (Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)

A third of people classed as key workers earn £10 ($12.30) an hour or less, according to research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

The independent research group said in a report that food and social care employees are lowest paid and hourly wages of key workers are 8% lower on average than other workers.

"Key workers are essential to the UK’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and they have certainly earned our gratitude. Compared to similar workers in non-key occupations, the average key worker earns around 9% less per hour,” said Christine Farquharson, a senior research economist at IFS.

Read more: UK economy suffers record blow ‘with worse to come’

Britain is in its fifth week of lockdown and current restrictions mean only those classed as “key workers” are allowed to leave the house for work for prolonged periods of time. Key workers include supermarket workers, medical and care staff, as well social workers among others.

Chart: IFS
Chart: IFS

IFS said as COVID-19 pandemic has “underlined the critical role of the UK’s key workers,” looking at wage data shows that “policymakers looking to change key workers’ working conditions after the pandemic will need to recognise” that key workers in the lowest paid sectors are earning way below the long-term target for the national living wage.

Its research showed that:

  • Median hourly wage in 2019 for key workers was £12.26 in today’s prices.

  • Median hourly wage in 2019 for workers in non-key occupations was £13.26 per hour.

  • Out of the third of key worker employees earning £10 an hour or below – 71% of those work in the food sector.

  • Median hourly wage in 2019 for a key worker in the food sector was £8.59, which is 30% less than the median key worker.

Farquharson said, “while some key worker sectors have very low pay – those in the food sector earn just £8.59 per hour on average – other key workers earn much more. Any policy plans to change key workers’ working conditions after the pandemic has passed will need to take these differences into account."