Briefing: Low pay for key workers after a year on the frontline

It is just over a year since Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the news of a national lockdown, instructing all apart from the nation’s key workers to ‘stay at home’. While much of the non-essential economic activity that couldn’t be done from home ground to a halt, the nation’s critical workers were deemed too important to put on hold. Consequently, this group has spent the past year at the vanguard of the fight against Covid-19, risking their own health for that of the nation.

Keeping the nation’s key workers working has been a priority for government throughout the pandemic, as is shown by the maintenance of schools and childcare centres for the children of those in critical sectors. However, while great effort has gone into ensuring key workers can continue to work, there has been much less focus on making sure this work allows them to earn enough to live.

This briefing details the financial shortfall these workers have incurred as a result of earning below the Living Wage over the past year. Our analysis finds that 16% of key workers earned less than the Living Wage over the past year. When taken collectively, this group of workers has lost out on £1.6bn compared to if they were earning the real Living Wage. They would each be over £900 better off over the course of the year (on average) if they had been earning the Living Wage.

As we follow the roadmap out of lockdown, the contributions of the nation’s critical workers over the past year should not be forgotten. The findings in this briefing demonstrate the need for a re-think on how we value the nation’s low paid critical workers.
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