One in seven voluntary sector employees are paid less than a living wage, study finds

One in seven voluntary sector workers earn less than a living wage, according to a new study.

A report released today by the Living Wage Foundation says low pay in the sector is a “significant issue” that reinforces inequality.

The Living Wage, which is voluntary and overseen by the Living Wage Commission, is calculated to reflect the true cost of living. It is currently £11.05 an hour in London and £9.90 in the rest of the UK.

It is higher than the government’s mandatory minimum wage, which is £9.50 an hour for workers aged 23 or over in the UK. The rate is lower for young employees.

The report says 14.1% of jobs in the UK voluntary sector are paid less than a living wage, compared to 17.1% in the economy as a whole.

According to the report, women are more likely to earn less than living wage than men, and some racialized groups also have higher than average proportions of workers earning below living wage. Disabled staff are also more likely than non-disabled workers to be paid less than the living wage.

The Living Wage Foundation, which promotes living wages and accredits employers who meet or exceed living wage levels, says in its report that 16.6% of women working in the sector earn less than living wage, compared to 10.3 % men.

The report says 71.3 of all jobs paying below living wage are held by women, while just over a quarter of part-time jobs are paid less than living wage, compared to 8.2 % of full-time jobs.

It also indicates that Pakistani, Bangladeshi, black African, black Caribbean and black British people all belong to groups that have higher than average proportions of workers earning below the living wage.

The report states that wages below the subsistence minimum are “a significant problem in the third sector”.

He says: “While the sector is devoting a large amount of resources to addressing the root causes of financial hardship, sections of the workforce are not being paid wages that allow them to meet essential living costs.

“It affects the physical and mental health of workers and their ability to stay in the industry.”

Paying less than a living wage also affects organizations in areas such as the ability to attract and retain good staff, the financial costs of sick leave and reputational damage, the report says.

“Despite this, there is limited attention paid to the extent of low pay in the third sector, let alone on who it has the most impact or what are the main drivers, it says.

Katherine Chapman, Director of the Living Wage Foundation, said: “Many low-paid service workers have faced enormous pressure to ensure the most vulnerable people in society are supported during the pandemic.

“Today, despite already struggling to keep their heads above water, one in seven service sector workers still paid below the real living wage are at risk of being swept away by the rising tide of the cost of high life.

“Everyone needs a salary that meets their daily needs, but it is not right that so many of those who care for our loved ones and the most vulnerable in society find it difficult to afford even the ‘essential.

“We strongly encourage all third sector employers who can afford it to commit to paying a real living wage and to donors to provide enough to support jobs paying a real living wage through the process of grants.”

The report is based on analysis of data from the Annual Hours and Earnings Survey and the Quarterly Labor Force Surveys, both conducted by the Office for National Statistics, as well as a survey of more of 2,100 UK adults by Savanta ComRes in April to examine attitudes towards third sector workers.

This survey found that 78% of respondents said voluntary sector staff should be paid at least living wage level.

Michael A. Bynum