Employment

Two thirds of retail workers are borrowing money to pay their bills

Usdaw is calling on the government to bring in a windfall tax on energy companies to lower the cost of bills.

Two thirds of retail workers have had to borrow money just to pay their daily bills – and half are struggling to pay it back, new research reveals.

The UK’s largest retail union Usdaw surveyed 6,500 of its members, largely made up of supermarket workers, home-delivery drivers and people in food manufacturing. The study also found that one in four can no longer afford to use the heating at all. 

“Having worked throughout (the pandemic), risking their health and too often facing abuse from customers; many key workers are still struggling in low-paid insecure employment and now face a growing cost of living crisis,” said Paddy Lillis, Usdaw general secretary, speaking at the Usdaw annual conference in Blackpool’s Winter Gardens.

“The energy price cap rise has pushed many household budgets to the limit. As food prices rise, household budgets are being stretched, many workers are now being driven into debt to pay everyday bills,” he continued. 

“The government has so far not delivered anywhere near enough to help workers facing of this cost of living crisis… If they don’t take the action we are calling for, the government will have simply failed to understand the scale of the challenge faced by millions of working households across the country.”

The retail sector is the worst affected by the phenomenon dubbed the Great Resignation, which has people quit in the face of long hours, public abuse, little regard to health and safety, and low-pay. Wholesale and retail was the sector that saw the greatest loss of older workers due to “inactivity”in 2021.

The stark results of the survey highlight how the spiralling cost of living crisis is impacting workers. Usdaw says many of its members are entitled to claim in-work benefits such as Universal Credit, a clear signifier that work or the national rate of minimum wage is not enough to live on. 

Of those Usdaw members who are in receipt of in-work benefits, 67 per cent are women and 69 per cent are people with young children. Almost two thirds of those surveyed who received in-work benefits said they are struggling with debt. 

The union is calling for a windfall tax on oil and gas producers, a reduction in VAT and a review of Universal Credit, as short-term emergency measures to address the current crisis pushing many into poverty.
Calls for chancellor Rishi Sunak to increase the national living and minimum wages to keep up with soaring inflation have increased. Usdaw is calling for a £10 minimum wage for all ages – unlike the government’s standard which differentiates between ages – and a ban on zero hour contracts.

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