Guest blog: Sandy Macdonald, Standard Life Aberdeen. 16% of workers are in low-paid and insecure work, it’s time to do things differently.
Before the current pandemic hit, a group of companies, trade unions and others convened by the Living Wage Foundation had come together to look at what we might do to address work insecurity. In recent years, the Living Wage movement has gained significant momentum, with cross party consensus on the need to ensure that wherever possible wages can increase to meet the cost of living. In-work poverty isn’t only a result of low wages though, and consultation with workers and their trade union representatives revealed that one of the main causes of anxiety for workers was uncertainty over the hours they work.
The Living Hours programme was designed to address these concerns. It asks businesses to pay the real Living Wage and also to commit to provide workers with at least four weeks’ notice of shifts, a contract that accurately reflects hours worked, and a contract with a guaranteed minimum of 16 hours a week.
Low-paid, insecure work affects 5.1 million workers in the UK, some 16% of workers. About 2 million of these are parents, so this has a direct correlation to children growing up in poverty and the adverse impact that has on life chances. We know that 1.3 million people who are now classed as ‘key workers’ are in low paid, insecure work. And, as was the case before the pandemic, certain groups are disproportionately impacted, including young workers, those from a black and ethnic minority background, and women. Our recent research has shown that over the last 20 years, levels of insecure work have remained relatively stable. However, we also know that following the last recession in 2008, there was a marked increase in levels of insecure work, with a particular impact on younger workers. More than ten years on, the career prospects and earning levels of that generation remain impacted by their experience following the last recession. If another recession is on the horizon, we hope history won’t repeat itself for another generation of young people, but that requires a commitment from employers to provide a security of hours alongside a real Living Wage.
The Living Wage campaign has always been a positive one. We prefer not to be judgmental and instead want to celebrate employers who can do the right thing, and who look after the wellbeing of workers and their families by ensuring they earn enough to meet the cost of living. Striking the right balance is more important than ever right now – we know many businesses are facing extraordinarily difficult decisions amidst the public health and economic circumstances we find ourselves in. However, we also think we have a clear opportunity to do things differently. If we don’t make some changes we will pay an even tougher price due to the additional hardship passed on to those who can least afford it.
The current pandemic has highlighted not only the vulnerability of many of our lowest paid workers, but also their value to us and how reliant we are on the work they do. With this insight fresh in our minds, it seems morally wrong that those same workers should be unable to make ends meet or plan for the future of their families for more than a day at a time. I’ve heard firsthand from workers about the additional stress and anxiety that uncertainty of work and pay brings. It’s not just about the money itself, it’s about control and the ability to think beyond today, to have hope for your family’s future. If we’re to genuinely build back better, it’s incumbent on us as a society to reward the workers who’ve helped us so much during these tough times and do whatever we can to give workers in all roles fair and secure income, by committing to give them both a Living Wage and Living Hours.