A new report highlights that key workers are more likely to be female and to be, on average, lower paid than other workers.
Key workers are more likely to be female and to be lower paid than other employees, earning around one pound less per hour than other workers on average, according to a new study, which says that that gap is growing.
The study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies says the median key worker employee earned £12.26 per hour in today’s prices last year, 8% less than the £13.26 per hour earned by the median earner in a non-key occupation.
The report notes significant variation in key worker wages. Overall, a third of key worker employees – and 71% of those in the food sector – earn £10 an hour or less, which is below the long-term target for the national living wage. The food and social care sectors stand out for the low wages their employees earn and the low levels of qualifications their workers hold, says the IFS. Older, self-employed farmers mean that nearly a fifth of food sector workers are aged 65 or older. Younger, migrant food processors mean that 30% of workers in the sector were born somewhere other than the UK, as were a quarter of health and social care workers.
The median earner in the food sector earned £8.59 per hour last year, 30% less than the median key worker. But the median earner in key professional services – such as justice or journalism – earned more than half as much again as the average key worker, partly reflecting that nearly 80% have degrees.
The IFS says the wage gap between key and non-key employees has been growing over time. Average wages for key workers last year were around 9% lower than for a similar non-key employee, nearly twice as large as the 5% gap in 2010.
Christine Farquharson, a Senior Research Economist at IFS, said: “Key workers are essential to the UK’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and they have certainly earned our gratitude…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.”