Almost a fifth of voluntary sector workers earning less than the living wage, research suggests

Almost one-fifth of voluntary sector workers earn below the living wage, according to new research.

The findings from the Living Wage Foundation, which defines the living wage as £10.85 an hour within London and £9.50 outside the capital, shows low pay continues to be an issue in the voluntary sector.

This is particularly the case for women, disabled workers, those from ethnic minority groups and part-time workers.

The report uses data from quarterly Labour Force Surveys and the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings.

For its definition of the voluntary sector, the foundation used the Inter-Departmental Business Register’s “non-profit body or mutual association”, which includes charities, universities, community interest companies, social enterprises and pressure groups.

The rate of low pay in the sector is the same as it was five years ago, said LWF, when about one-fifth (17 per cent) of workers in the sector earned below the living wage, amounting to about 388,000 employees nationally.

Low-paid third sector workers are also more likely to have lost work during the pandemic, with nearly half (48 per cent) of them being “away from work” (mainly due to furlough) during the height of the pandemic (Q2 2020), compared with just 20 per cent of those earning at or above the living wage.

Researchers also found that certain groups of workers were at greater risk than others of earning less than the living wage: 19 per cent of women in contrast to 13 per cent of men, and 20 per cent of workers from ethnic minority groups compared with 17 per cent of white workers.

In addition, about three in 10 part-time workers earned below the living wage, compared with nine per cent of full-time workers. This was also the case for 20 per cent of disabled workers compared with 15 per cent of those without a disability.

Graham Griffiths, interim director at the LWF, said: “During Covid-19, the third sector has been a lifeline for millions of families across the country, providing them with everyday needs like food, clothes and educational equipment.

“Our research shows that many of these workers have been providing these services despite earning below the living wage and being unable to afford them themselves.

“After more than a year of pandemic firefighting, the third sector has some time to think about how it rebuilds through and beyond Covid-19. To continue to provide essential services year-round and attract new people into the sector, providing workers with a real living wage must be at the heart of this process.

“We urge third sector organisations who can do so to become living wage employers, and for funding providers to become living wage funders to help spread and support the growth of living wage jobs in the sector.”

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