Thousands of key workers in West Sussex earn less than a living wage, figures suggest

Thousands of employees in West Sussex – including key workers considered critical to the UK’s response to the coronavirus crisis – are earning below the so-called ‘real living wage’, data suggests.

Shelf stackers are unlikely to earn above the real living wage, the data suggests

An estimated 59,000 workers in the county earn less than the real living wage, according to figures from the BBC Shared Data Unit.

These include hospital cleaners, porters, carers and others deemed to be key workers during the coronavirus crisis.

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The GMB union said the coronavirus crisis had shone a light on the ‘rock-bottom pay’ of the people ‘expected to risk their health to protect us’.

The real living wage is calculated by the Living Wage Foundation, which argues that the government’s National Living Wage is not high enough to meet workers’ needs.

Calculated independently from the Government and based on costs such as food, clothing and household bills, the real living wage currently stands at £9.30 an hour for those working in the UK outside London.

It is separate to the statutory National Living Wage – the legally-binding hourly rate for workers aged 25 and over – which was raised to £8.72 an hour from 1 April.

In Arun, an estimated 27.9 per cent of workers were paid below the Real Living Wage in 2019 – around 9,000 people in total, according to the figures.

Adur and Worthing have the second highest percentage of employees earning below £9.30 an hour – at 18.7 per cent and 18.9 per cent respectively – while the figures are similarly high in Mid Sussex, at 18.2 per cent. and Crawley at 17.4 per cent.

Less workers in Chichester Horsham earn below the Real Living Wage, at 14.8 per cent and 14.3 respectively.

Jobs most likely to be paid below the Real Living Wage include shelf fillers (91.8 per cent), retail cashiers and check out operators (74.9 per cent), cleaners (73.7 per cent) and pharmacy assistants (72.9 per cent).

Others include hospital porters (48.7 per cent), refuse collectors (28.5 per cent) and ambulance staff – excluding paramedics (19.6 per cent).

The importance of these roles to public health and safety is highlighted by the fact that employees in many of these professions have been classed as key workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

The GMB union has called for key workers’ wages to be raised.

Lola McEvoy, GMB Union Organiser, said: “It’s simply wrong that over three million of the most vital jobs in our society pay so little that those doing them live with the compounding stress of falling behind with rent and spiralling into debt.

“All key workers including cleaners, carers, teaching assistants and hospital porters, must be respected with a real living wage and decent contractual terms that reflect their undisputable societal value.”

Katherine Chapman, Director of the Living Wage Foundation, said it was ‘incredibly important’ that key workers were paid a living wage.

She said: “These are the hospital cleaners, the shelf-stackers and the carers who are putting their health on the line to keep us safe, and to keep our economy and society running.

“Almost two-thirds of cleaners and domestic workers, and over a third of care workers and in-home carers currently earn less than the real Living Wage.

“For those employers that can afford to do so, it is important that they continue to support workers with a Living Wage.”

Economists have, however, urged against further wage rises before the full toll of the crisis is clear.

The Low Pay Commission, an independent body which advises the government, warned it might be necessary to apply an ‘emergency brake’ on long-term plans to continue to lift the statutory minimum.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “It is right we ensure the lowest paid are fairly rewarded for their contribution to the economy, particularly those working in essential services during the biggest threat this country has faced in decades.

“This year’s increase to the National Living Wage means we will be putting an extra £930 a year into the pockets of 2.4 million of the UK’s lowest paid workers.”

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