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Wage inequality has been exacerbated by the pandemic

COVID-19 has continued to cause large disparities in the UK’s workforce, as new research has found that the lowest paid are the ones most likely to have lost their income.

According to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), half of the UK’s low-paid workers, earning less than £15,000 per year, have suffered income loss due to the pandemic.

By contrast, just 29% of high earners, those earning more than £50,000 a year, have had a pay cut as a result of COVID-19.

Overall a third (37%) of all UK workers have had a loss of income since March 2020.

Further reading:

Third lockdown pushes workplace inequalities to brink

HR should offer furlough to working parents, TUC says

In-work poverty: All work and no pay

Exacerbating the problem, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said that many low-paid workers are struggling through the pandemic on less money and with higher costs.

In response, O’Grady called on government to extend the furlough scheme until the end of the year; permanently keep the boost to universal credit introduced last year, and place a guarantee on furlough to make sure people aren’t being paid less than minimum wage.

She added that employers can also help by ensuring that furloughed staff receive top up payments to make up their wage.

Speaking to HR magazine she said: “This is particularly important for low-paid staff to make sure that no-one falls below minimum wage. And we want HR departments to make sure that all staff have paid time off when their chance comes to go and get vaccinated.”

Martin Tiplady, CEO of Chameleon People Solutions, supported the TUC’s campaign to extend the furlough scheme and implement a minimum floor to avoid below minimum wage payments.

He also warned of the fact that redundancies still to come would have a disproportionate effect on low-pay workers.

He told HR magazine: “HR departments need to be alive to the implications.

“They need to make sure that redundancy plans do not disproportionately target the lower paid and put measures in place to monitor this especially as women and BME staff are much more likely to be affected.”

He also said that HR needs to consider ways to level out income - spreading any pay rises equitably among the workforce to benefit those on lower pay, and providing support to help employees struggling between pay days.

“I know that organisations will not have money to chuck around but just at the moment it is time - as best as we can - to look after staff and to that end, the lower paid ought to be a double priority for employers,” he added.

Research institute BritainThinks conducted the online survey of 2,231 on behalf of the TUC.

The research was conducted between 19 November and 29 November 2020 and all respondents were either in work, on furlough or recently made redundant.