One in seven voluntary sector employees paid less than the living wage, research finds

A report by the Living Wage Foundation says low pay for charity staff is reinforcing inequality

One in seven voluntary sector workers earn less than the living wage, new research has found. 

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

The living wage, which is voluntary and is overseen by the Living Wage Commission, is calculated to reflect actual living costs. 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 older across the UK. The rate is lower for younger employees. 

The report says 14.1 per cent of jobs in the UK voluntary sector are paid less than the living wage, compared with 17.1 across the overall economy. 

Women are more likely to earn less than the living wage than men, the report says, and certain racialised groups also have above-average proportions of workers earning below living wage levels. Disabled staff are also more likely than non-disabled workers to be paid less than the living wage. 

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

The report says 71.3 of all jobs that pay below the living wage are held by women, while slightly more than a quarter of part-time jobs are paid less than the living wage compared with 8.2 per cent of full-time roles. 

It also says people who are Pakistani, Bangladeshi, black African, black Caribbean and black British are all in groups that have above-average proportions of workers earning below the living wage. 

The report says below-living wage pay is “a significant issue in the third sector”. 

It says: “While the sector dedicates a large amount of resources to the root causes of financial hardship, sections of the workforce are not paid a wage that allows them to meet essential living costs.

“This affects workers’ physical and mental health and whether they can remain in the sector.”

Paying less than the living wage also affects organisations in areas including 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 on the scale of low pay across the third sector, and even less on whom this impacts most or what the main drivers are, it says. 

Katherine Chapman, director of the Living Wage Foundation, said: “Many low-paid third sector workers faced enormous pressures to make sure the most vulnerable people in society were supported during the pandemic. 

“Now, despite already struggling to keep their heads above water, the one in seven third sector workers still paid below the real living wage face being swept away by the rising tide of high living costs. 

“Everybody needs a wage that meets their everyday needs, but it can’t be right that so many of those who look after our loved ones and the most vulnerable in society are struggling to afford even the basics. 

“We strongly encourage all those third sector employers that can afford to do so to commit to pay a real living wage and for funders to provide enough to support real living wage jobs through the grant-making process.”

The report is based on analysis of data from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings and quarterly Labour Force Surveys, both conducted by the Office for National Statistics, plus a survey of more than 2,100 UK adults carried out by Savanta ComRes in April to examine public attitudes to third sector workers. 

That survey found that 78 per cent of respondents said voluntary sector staff should be paid at least living wage levels.

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