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Millions trapped in low-paid, insecure work, study suggests

·4-min read

Around 3.7 million people are “trapped” in low paid and insecure work, often receiving less than 24 hours’ notice for their shifts, new research suggests.

Insecure workers earn less than the voluntary Real Living Wage and are more likely to have lost their jobs during the pandemic, according to the study.

The Living Wage Foundation said its analysis of official figures showed that almost half of insecure, low-paid workers were away from work, mainly due to being furloughed, during the height of the Covid crisis, compared to fewer than a fifth of other workers.

Millions of people are experiencing some form of work insecurity, such as being underemployed, on volatile pay or hours or in low-paid self-employment, said the report.

Of those paid below the Real Living Wage, 12% receive less than 24 hours’ notice for their working hours, shifts or work schedules, while half had less than a week’s notice, said the report.

Two in five were hit by shifts being unexpectedly cancelled, and of those, 28% received no pay, the study indicated.

Over 70-year-olds are most likely to be in low-paid insecure work, followed by 16- to 19-year-olds, said the foundation.

Graham Griffiths, director of the Living Wage Foundation, said: “Insecure work has been a consistent feature of the labour market over the past 20 years.

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“The result is millions of people unable to get the hours and the pay they need to meet their everyday needs, with many families throughout the UK struggling to keep their heads above water.

“Over the past year this problem has been exacerbated, with many low paid workers in insecure jobs also more likely to lose work.

“There is a real danger that as we look to recover from the huge damage of the pandemic, we fail to recognise the vital need for an economy built on jobs with decent pay and secure hours. This is what we need for a modern, dynamic economy that delivers stability to workers, families and businesses.”

The foundation said millions were “trapped” in low-paid, insecure work, adding that a number of organisations have committed to provide guaranteed secure hours and payment if shifts are cancelled, through a programme it has launched.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said: “The scourge of insecure work and poverty wages that is blighting millions of lives is proof that our economic model is broken.

“A job should provide security, dignity and a proper wage that you can support your family on.

“We need a new deal for working people. Labour will deliver an immediate living wage of at least £10 an hour, end insecure work and zero-hours contracts by creating a single status of ‘worker’, and give all workers full rights from day one on the job so that everyone has the right to sick pay, the minimum wage, and holiday pay.”

The Real Living Wage is £10.85 n hour in London and £9.50 outside the capital, compared with the official minimum of £8.91 for adults.

Katie Schmuecker, deputy director of policy and partnerships for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “Good jobs should provide a reliable foundation to enable people to build a better life for themselves and their families.

“Too often, the jobs that are available don’t offer the stability or security workers and their families need to plan their lives and avoid being pushed into poverty.

“More than a third of people paid below the real living wage say that short notice periods for shifts had a negative impact on their household finances.”

A Business Department spokesperson said: “The Government is determined to make work pay, having recently raised the National Living Wage, with a commitment to increase it further to reach two thirds of average earnings by 2024.

“We are committed to going even further to support workers, pushing ahead with plans to include a new right for all workers to request a more predictable contract from their employers, giving individuals the security they need.”

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