You cannot separate low pay from child poverty

The latest Resolution Foundation report showing that a staggering 3.5m workers have been stuck on low pay for a decade, makes for depressing reading. Sadly it won’t come as a surprise for many UNISON members – in particular women workers who are less likely to escape from the low pay trap than men. And it solidly reinforces the picture of how divided our nation has become.

The report found that half of all workers stuck over the decade werebetween 41 and 60 in 2012, this means that they had spent 10 of their peak earning years – between 30 to 50 – on low pay. The timing is critical given that this will have had a significant impact on their families. There are currently 3.5 million children living in poverty in the UK. That’s 27 per cent of children, or more than one in four. And child poverty under this Government is projected to rise from 2012/13 with an expected 600,000 more children living in poverty by 2015/16.

You don’t have to look far to see the impact of low pay. UNISON’s own welfare charity “There for You’ has seen a massive rise in the number of people coming to them for help. More than 500,000 local government workers now earn below the living wage and low pay has become embedded in councils across the country because of the Government’s three year pay freeze followed by 1% until 2016.

We know that women are most likely to be caught up in low paid jobs such as caring, cleaning or hospitality. These jobs are worth more but they are undervalued by society as a whole and that is reflected in pay rates. The report reveals that some 900,000 women on low wages in 2012 had been stuck there for a decade.

The Government likes to talk up the number of workers now in a job. The reality for many is different as the majority of “new” jobs are low wage, part-time and increasingly zero hours contracts. Being stuck in a low pay ghetto bodes ill for them as individuals, but also for the economy as a whole. A low wage economy cannot compete in the global economy. Low pay means low taxes and falling tax receipts – this in turn means more people relying on in–work benefits just to survive. Low paying bosses are putting an extra burden on taxpayers that is completely unacceptable. Paying people the living wage would be a small step in the right direction.