Employment

'All my earnings go on rent:' Millions of women in UK struggling to make ends meet in low-paid jobs

Female workers were reported to be more negatively impacted by low pay compared to men, according to the Living Wage Foundation

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Almost 2.2 million women in the UK are “unable to buy essentials” in low-paid jobs. 

Research from the Living Wage Foundation published on Tuesday (5 March) revealed that almost 2.2 million jobs held by women are paid below the Real Living Wage, compared to 1.5 million jobs held by men. 

The Real Living Wage is a wage rate paid voluntarily by businesses in the UK, calculated based on the cost of living. The current Real Living Wage stands at £12 an hour across the UK, and £13.15 in London. 

The new research, based on analysis of Office for National Statistics data, found that the number of women “trapped in low-paid work” has slightly increased from the year before. 

In 2022, just over two million jobs held by women were paid less than the Real Living Wage, amounting to 14.7% of all jobs held by women. During this time frame, one in 10 jobs held by men were low-paid. 

As a consequence of this, the study found that around a quarter of female workers (23%) reported having no money left over once essentials are paid for, compared to 12% of men. 

“In 2022, I was working as a barista for a very busy coffee shop whilst juggling my university studies and looking after my 11 year old child,” Carolina Suarez, who moved to England from Colombia in 2009, said.

“The job was extremely difficult, and I had to work very early shifts. All my earnings were going towards rent for my studio flat in Hackney and food, so it was a bit difficult to save any money.”

Part of the reason behind the disparity between men and women’s pay is down to the number of women in part-time jobs, with the number of low-paid jobs held by women more than twice the number of part-time jobs held by men, and part-time work much more likely to be lower paid.

Female workers were reported to be more negatively impacted by low pay compared to men, with women reportedly more likely to have increased their food bank usage, and more likely to say their pay negatively impacted their levels of anxiety.

This follows previous analysis which found that homelessness among women is a far more widespread problem than official statistics show, with women who sofa-surf, ride buses through the night, or working in the sex industry largely missed from official homelessness statistics

Summer Scholes, an employee at accredited ‘Living Wage Employer’ Newington Fish Bar in Kent, said she was previously struggling to make ends meet at a low-paid job. 

“Last summer I spent seven days a week on low pay trying to pay my bills, leaving me unable to buy many essentials throughout the month,” Scholes explained. 

“However, this year while being paid by a Real Living Wage employer I have been able to pay my bills, get the essentials I need and save some for my future studies. Above all I feel I’m a valued member of the team.”   

Katherine Chapman, director at the Living Wage Foundation, added: “This analysis highlights the stark reality of an undeniable truth – millions of women are trapped in low paid work and making up the bulk of low paying industries like health and social care. This isn’t something we should just accept.”

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