‘Low paid suffering most from jobs impact of Covid’

A study by the Institute for Employment Studies finds that the lowest paid workers are more than twice as likely to have lost their jobs as those in higher paid work.

Woman working at a supermarket checkout


Low paid workers are more than twice as likely to have lost their jobs during the pandemic and are at far greater risk of being temporarily laid off or having their hours cut, according to new analysis.

The research by the Institute for Employment Studies, funded by Standard Life Foundation, concludes that in this current lockdown it is likely that around two thirds of low paid workers – or four million people – are either temporarily laid off or working fewer hours than normal. The Institute says this would be double the rate of work disruption for staff who are not low paid.

This is in part due to employment falls in a range of lower-paying jobs – in particular food services and manufacturing, hospitality, residential care and construction; but the Institute says that at the same time employment has risen in higher-paid work (driven by public services, technology and finance). It says these unequal impacts risk driving growing polarisation in the labour market and widening inequalities.

The report also includes findings from in depth research with 40 low paid workers after the first lockdown and a series of roundtables in the autumn with organisations working with and researching low pay. These found that while emergency support measures like the furlough scheme and increases in Universal Credit have helped cushion the impacts of this crisis, many of those in low pay have slipped through the cracks with some being denied furlough, having their hours cut, being expected to work without adequate protection and seeing their living costs increase while their incomes fall.

The report comes as Office for National Statistics figures show a rise in people travelling to work in this lockdown compared to the 2020 lockdown amid concerns that some workers are unnecessarily being asked to come into work despite government guidance. Almost half (48 per cent) of workers had travelled to work during the preceding seven days, compared to just 35 per cent in May 2020.

Tony Wilson, Director of the Institute for Employment Studies, said: “This crisis has already taken a significant toll on jobs and incomes, with low paid workers bearing the brunt. With unemployment set to rise sharply this year we are likely still in the foothills of the employment crisis, but we can take action now and at the budget to address this. Now is not the time to be cutting Universal Credit or cutting back on employment protections. In fact we need to do more to support low-income households, reform sick pay and ensure that workplace rights can be properly enforced. Looking further ahead, we need to plan now for the recovery and ensure that we put full employment and decent work is at the heart of it.”

The report calls for the extension of ‘flexible furlough’ to the Autumn, the maintenance of the £20 uplift in Universal Credit, the temporary suspension of the benefit cap, the reduction or removal of the means test in the £500 Test and Trace Support Payment, a reform of Statutory Sick Pay, improved protection for insecure workers and a focus on ‘good work’ and skills investment.

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