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One million public sector staff earn less than the living wage

Ahead of worker rights-related Brexit amendments next week, research reveals many public sector workers are at risk of in-work poverty

One million public sector workers earn less than the real living wage, according to the Living Wage Foundation.

Its research revealed that as many as 1.2 million people working for the NHS, councils and other public sector employers receive what the Foundation described as 'unsustainably low wages' of less than £9 an hour, or £10.55 in London.

It said public sector workers, employed either directly by the state or on outsourced contracts, account for up to 20% of the million people in Britain paid less than this level – the real living wage – which is a voluntary minimum set each year to reflect living costs.

On 26 February hundreds of workers at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Ministry of Justice, who earn at little as £7.83 per hour, went on strike against outsourcing. They claim it leaves them exposed to discrimination and job insecurity.

The Living Wage Foundation research stated that paying the living wage isn’t just the right thing for employers to do, it also makes financial sense. Its data showed that if these public institutions uplifted all low-paid workers to the real living wage, 35p in every £1 would be returned to the Treasury in the form of increased tax receipts.

A poll by Survation found that 64.3% of the public agree that all public sector workers should be given the real living wage rather than just the government minimum. It found broad support among both Conservative and Labour voters.

Lola McEvoy, campaigns and communications manager at the Living Wage Foundation, said: “It’s simply wrong that our teaching assistants, cleaners, carers and catering staff – paid on public money – are struggling to keep their heads above water on wages that don’t meet basic living costs. The public support this, politicians support this, the Treasury would benefit from this. There’s no reason not to do it. It’s time for our public institutions to lead by example and join nearly 5,000 employers who pay the real living wage.”

Christina McAnea, assistant general secretary at UNISON, added: “Hundreds of thousands of workers delivering essential public services are on poverty pay. Many have second and even third jobs just to keep the wolf from the door.”

Prime minister Theresa May is expected to announce a series of pledges next week on workers' rights and the easing of trade union restrictions, in an attempt to get Labour MPs to support her Brexit deal.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy said that the government had made a commitment to improving wages and workers' rights: “Every employee deserves a fair and competitive wage that recognises their hard work and contribution to our economy.

“The government has demonstrated its commitment to workers’ rights through the biggest package of workplace reforms for more than 20 years, and has helped to deliver the fastest wage growth in 20 years for the lowest-paid workers through the National Living Wage."