More than a million carers and cleaners are suffering in-work poverty

New research found that public sector staff make up a fifth of UK workers earning less than the real living wage

As many as 1.2 million public sector workers are struggling to make ends meet because of poor pay, a report has revealed.

Researchers commissioned by the Living Wage Foundation (LWF) found that 20 per cent of all low-paid workers are in the public sector – that includes care workers, cleaners, teaching assistants and catering staff. Most are in local authority jobs.

The LWF reported that public sector workers make up more than a fifth of the six million people in the UK who are paid less than the real living wage (£9 an hour or £10.55 in London). This amount is independently calculated according to the real cost of living in the UK.

Over 64 per cent of people surveyed think public sector workers should be better paid.

The LWF argues that an increase in wages for millions would return benefits for the economy – with 35p in every extra £1 paid to workers going back to the Treasury as tax.

Nearly 5,000 employers across the UK including IKEA and Nationwide pay their staff the real living wage, 75 per cent of which said the increased pay made employees more motivated.

The real living wage is voluntary and separate from the national living wage which is set at £7.83 an hour (due to increase to £8.21 an hour from April).

Kristiyan, a university cleaner whose pay was bumped up to the real living wage, said: “Before I used to sometimes clock in over 50 hours a week at work. Now I can afford to step back and enjoy more quality social time.

“Due to the living wage I can afford to go out every once in a while, to the restaurant or the cinema, for example, without guilt and anxiety about being tipped over the edge. In the process enjoying some quality time with people I care about.

“The back pay of the living wage also helped me put a deposit down to move out of the sub-standard housing I was living in at the time.”

There are 104 local councils currently paying the real living wage to their staff (including Islington, Greater Manchester, Bristol and Liverpool) plus 33 universities doing the same.

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In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.

NHS workers were also found to be struggling to pay monthly bills even in full-time work, with 335,000 of said workers earning less than the real living wage.

More than a third of working parents on low incomes were found by Survation to have regularly skipped meals due to being low on cash.

LWF spokesperson Lola McEvoy said: “It’s simply wrong that our teaching assistants, cleaners, carers and catering staff – paid on public money – are struggling to keep their heads above water on wages that don’t meet basic living costs.

“The public support this, politicians support this, the Treasury would benefit from this – there’s no reason not to do it. It’s time for our public institutions to lead by example and join nearly 5,000 employers who pay the real living wage.”

The LWF called for public sector bodies to “do the right thing and give struggling workers the lifeline they need”.