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UK workers' ability to afford comfortable life plummets

There is a widening gap between what people are paid and what they need to earn to live comfortably, according to research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).

It has studied how far UK workers fall below the minimum income standard (MIS), a metric used to determine a socially acceptable standard of living based on public opinion.

To reach the MIS, a single person would need to earn £25,500 a year, however the national living wage stands at £18,600 for someone working full-time. This means a single adult working full-time on the national living wage is able to achieve just 78% of MIS.

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The ongoing cost of living crisis has made the gap even bigger, with rising food and energy costs taking up more of workers' income.

Steve Herbert, wellbeing and benefits director at Partners&, highlighted why there's such a difference between the national living wage and the MIS.

He told HR magazine: "This difference arises because the MIS is a measure arrived at through detailed research to identify the minimum income level a household requires to reach a socially acceptable standard of living. Whereas the national living wage is not based on any research, and was largely introduced as a political gesture in the 2015 Budget statement."

Employers should strive to pay workers a real living wage, Herbert added, as that would be the best way to help them navigate cost of living issues.

He said: "The national living wage – and indeed the national minimum wage paid to those under age 23 – have both lagged well behind the MIS since inception.

"Employers looking to ensure their employees can survive the difficult winter ahead would be better placed by aiming to become a Real Living Wage employer, which more accurately reflects those MIS targets and objectives."

People who receive out of work benefits were more likely to fall far below the MIS threshold. The research showed the income available to a single adult without children, after taxes and rent, is only 32% of MIS and only 29% of MIS for a couple without children - even after factoring in the government’s cost-of-living support.

A couple with two children where both adults receive out-of-work benefits, are able to reach 52% of MIS, while a single parent with two children who receives out-of-work benefits can reach 54% of MIS.

Peter Matejic, head of analysis at JRF, said that the government's cost of living support, consisting of one off payments to disabled workers, low income workers and pensioners, is insufficient when it comes to helping people to meet the MIS.

He said: "The situation is dire for families already in extremely difficult circumstances. The government’s cost of living support will not plug the growing gap between incomes and the amount families require to meet their minimum needs.

"In order to move us closer to a society where fewer people fall below the MIS, the government must reform our social security system to ensure that everyone can afford the essentials and, more broadly, what the public think is needed to live in dignity."