• More than one in three cannot afford to shop where they work
• Nearly 60% say they are trapped in low pay
• Just 24% believe their employers cannot afford to pay them more
• Four in five think a living wage would be better than more benefits
Over a third (34%) of low wage earners cannot afford to shop where they work and nearly sixty percent of workers earning £6.50 or below (58%) feel trapped in low waged work. Over half report that they do not know what they will earn from week to week (51%).
These are among the key findings of the first ever poll of national minimum wage workers, undertaken by independent polling company Survation for Unite, the country’s biggest union, released today (Wednesday 16 July).
With latest figures showing wage growth the lowest since records began, the poll of 2,023 low waged workers points to an ‘hourglass’ economy taking root where low paid work is increasingly all that is on offer and widespread financial insecurity is a feature of everyday life.
Just one in four workers (24%) earning the minimum wage believe their employer can’t afford to pay them more, while almost eight in ten (79%) say that they want work to pay and want to earn a living wage instead of depending on benefit top ups.
A majority of minimum wage earners (58%) expressed despair that better paid work is not available, with one in three saying they have the skills and experience for better paid work but none is available.
The ground breaking poll also found that over half of respondents (57%) take a bleak view of their current standard of living, rating it as either “poor” (20%) or “neither good nor poor” (37%). Shockingly, 20% of young minimum wage workers polled report that their household has been forced to turn to food banks in the past year.
Raising the legal minimum wage is seen as the best way to address low pay according to four out of five workers (79%) getting by on the national minimum wage. And more than half of all workers on the national minimum wage (54%) say that it is the government’s responsibility to tackle low earnings.
Commenting on the findings, Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “Government and business in this country are in danger of contriving a situation where hard work does not pay in this country.
“Five million UK workers earn less than a living wage, consigned to an insecure income and increasingly shut out of the economy. Many of these workers are employed in the shops and services that populate our high streets, yet they cannot afford to shop where they work.
“Far from enjoying the spoils of any so-called recovery, they are working harder and getting poorer in Tory-led Britain, not knowing from week to week what they will earn and desperate for more hours, with food bank help now a regular feature of working people’s lives.
“The crying shame is that low wage work in this country is no longer the first rung on the employment ladder but actually the first step into a poverty pay trap. People with the skills for better paid work are not escaping into it because there are no decent jobs around.
“Big business in Britain should hang its head in shame. Our major retailers, restaurant chains and hotels could well afford to raise wages, and with it the living standards of the communities they depend on for their profits.
“The message from this poll to government is clear too: These workers are looking to you to act because too few boardrooms do. The minimum wage must be the living wage.”
Survation conducted the ground-breaking survey for Unite between June 23 and July 2 2014, polling 2,023 workers who are earning £6.50 per hour or less.
Unite is fighting for the living wage – currently £8.80 in London and £7.65 elsewhere – to replace the minimum wage, which is currently £6.31 per hour, so pulling millions out of poverty and slashing the benefit bill by £3 billion.
Unite argues that a living wage is affordable, confirmed by the Living Wage Commission which noted in its final report that businesses in many low-wage industries would face only a modest and entirely affordable wage-bill hike if they paid the living wage: a 1.1% wage-bill increase in the food production industry, 0.5% in construction and 0.2% in banking.
For further information please contact Unite head of media and campaigns Alex Flynn on 020 3371 2066 or 07967 665869.
Twitter: @unitetheunion Facebook: unitetheunion1
Notes to editors
• Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.
• The full survey results can be found here