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Women make up most of those paid below the minimum wage, but are less likely to complain about it, according to a report by the Low Pay Commission.
It finds that women make up two thirds of underpaid workers, but a lower share of those who make a complaint about underpayment.
The report says that women are more likely to be paid less than the minimum wage because they make up the bulk of those on low wages and are often working part time or on hourly wages.
The report finds part of the reason for underpayment is a lag between the raising of the minimum wage and employers paying it. The report says levels of underpayment are at their highest immediately after an uprating and decline by around half over the three to six months that follow.
It says salaried workers make up 11% of people paid at the NLW but 44% of those paid below it. The LPC says this is likely to be because neither these workers or their employers are tracking the hours they are working. Moreover, 31% of underpaid workers do not work in traditionally low-paying occupations which the LPC says makes it difficult for the Government to target.
The report notes that there has been some improvement since the HMRC began proactively investigating underpayment, but it says it needs to do more to publicise new levels of minimum pay and enforce it, for instance, naming and shaming employers who don’t pay it.
Bryan Sanderson, Chair of the Low Pay Commission, said: “The Low Pay Commission has always had a strong interest in compliance with the minimum wage rates it recommends. There is, after all, little point in having a minimum wage if workers do not receive the correct rate.
“With more workers than ever paid the minimum wage or close to it, more people are at risk of being underpaid. Our analysis finds that up to 1 in 5 people who should be paid at least the minimum wage may in fact receive less. This equates to between 305,000 and 580,000 workers at its highest point, though it is a difficult thing to measure.
“The LPC welcomes the recent increases in funding for HMRC’s enforcement of the minimum wage, and recognises the progress it has made. However, we also think there is more the Government could do to identify non-compliance and stop it happening in the first place. In our report we lay out recommendations for ways the Government could go further.”