Research finds millions of women earn less than Real Living Wage, and are disproportionately impacted by the cost of living crisis

'The sticky floor of low pay and precarious work is holding women back, true equity needs to start with a real Living Wage.’

No 10

Ahead of International Women’s Day, the Living Wage Foundation (LWF) carried out research on gender and the Living Wage. It found that over two million women in Britain earn below the living wage and are more likely to be struggling with the rising cost of living than men.

The Living Wage Foundation’s report used data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) annual survey for hours and earnings to reveal the number of jobs below the Real Living Wage.

The research found that 14 percent of women – equating to more than 2 million – who are in work are paid below the real living wage, compared to 9 percent of men – 1.4 million. Furthermore, 13 percent of women in shift work are more likely to be on zero-hour contracts, compared to 9 percent of men in shift work. Women are also less likely to receive payment when shifts are cancelled – 27 percent compared to 17 percent of men, the research found.

The Real Living Wage is currently £10.90 in the UK, with a higher rate of £11.95 in London where the cost of living is higher. Unlike the minimum wage – which is £9.50 an hour and a legal requirement – the Living Wage is voluntary. Around 12,000 businesses across the UK currently pay the Living Wage.

The LWF also asked workers their thoughts on their pay and the cost of living crisis. The foundation found that 75 percent of women felt their pay negatively impacts their levels of anxiety, compared to 65 percent of men. 72 percent of women say there pay has a negative impact on their quality of life, compared to 66 percent of men.

In response to the findings of the report, Katherine Chapman, director of the Living Wage Foundation, said: 

“Our research demonstrates the reality that millions of women in the UK – often cleaners, catering staff and care workers – are more likely to be trapped in low-paying, insecure and precarious jobs.  

“This year’s International Women’s Day 2023 is focused on equity – the sticky floor of low pay and precarious work is holding women back; true equity needs to start with a real Living Wage.   

“It has been heartening to see record levels of employers signing up the real Living Wage and Living Hours in this past year. We’re encouraging all businesses who can to join our network of 12,000 Living Wage employers,” Chapman continued.

When asked whether the government should be doing more to encourage employers to pay the Real Living Wage and help bridge the gender pay gap, a spokesperson from the LWF told Left Foot Forward:

“While the ‘glass ceiling’ often makes headlines, the reality for millions of women across the UK is of being stuck on the sticky floor of low pay and insecure work. Living Wage Foundation research underlines that women are being disproportionately impacted by the cost of living crisis, holding 60 percent of jobs that pay less than the real Living Wage.

“Clustered in low paying sectors like social care in which more than half of workers are women, there is a vital role for government to increase local authority funding so that care workers can enjoy the security and stability of a real Living Wage when they need it most.”

Belfast Council’s Living Wage commitments

Amid calls to pay the Real Living Wage, it was announced this week that Belfast City Council has become the first council in Northern Ireland to become an accredited Living Wage Employer, joining Edinburgh Council and the Greater London Authority. To become accredited, a council has to pay its employees the Foundation Living Wage, as well as ensuring any regularly contracted workers are paid the living wage hourly rate.

The LWF’s Katherine Chapman said: “We’re delighted that Belfast CityCouncil has joined the movement of nearly 12,000 responsible employers across the UK who voluntarily commit to go further than the government minimum to make sure all their staff earn enough to live on.

“They join thousands of small businesses, as well as the City of Edinburgh Council, the Greater London Authority and the Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust. These organisations recognise that paying the real Living Wage is the mark of a responsible employer and they, like Belfast City Council, believe that a hard day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay.”

Councillor Mal O’Hara, chair of Belfast City Council’s Social Policy Working Group, said: “The council has long been committed to becoming a Living Wage Employer, so this accreditation marks an important milestone in that journey.”

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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