You’re walking down a street and see someone enthusiastically holding a clipboard and trying to make eye-contact with you. Do you try and avoid their gaze and head into the nearest shop? Or do you walk over hoping for a quick survey and a free sweet for doing so? Well…
The latest figures released today (Tuesday 24 October) by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveal unemployment is up in the UK, rising 0.2% in the three months to the end of August to 4.2%. However, it should be noted these figures are what the ONS describe as “alternative” after receiving a lower than normal number of responses to its labour force survey (LFS). Time for a performance review of those holding the ONS clipboards?
The estimates of UK employment and unemployment have been published as “experimental statistics” based on growth rates from pay as you earn real-time information provided by HMRC and the claimant count for Universal Credit in the periods from May to July 2023 onwards. “This is to provide a more holistic view of the state of the labour market while the LFS estimates are uncertain. Unadjusted June to August LFS data are not published,” an ONS spokesperson said.
Over the same periods, the number of people in work fell by 0.3 percentage points to 75.7% while vacancies fell below 1m to 988,000, a drop of 43,000 and the 15th consecutive quarterly fall, the ONS data showed.
By way of contrast, almost half a million workers in the UK whose employers are signed up to pay the voluntary real living wage are in line for a pay rise to at least £12 an hour, taking their annual wage to over £3,000 a year above the government’s minimum wage. The Living Wage Foundation (“LWF”) said employers in London that are part of the scheme will pay an enhanced rate of £13.15 an hour to cope with the extra costs of living in the capital.
According to Katherine Chapman, director of LWF, the charity which sets the rates based, the rise was needed after research found the cost-of-living crisis continued to affect many of Britain’s low-paid workers and “was independently calculated based on what people need to live on”. Furthermore, recent polling of those earning below the real living wage found 60% had visited a food bank in the past year and 39% regularly skipped meals for financial reasons. Some more successful clipboard holders must work for the LWF.
By way of a brief history lesson, the minimum wage was introduced in the early years of Tony Blair’s first term and came into effect on 1 April 1999 (with Blame It on the Weatherman by B*Witched at Number 1) at £3.60 per hour. The LWF believed this rate to be too low and in 2005 launched the real living wage following research by the Resolution Foundation into the day to day costs of low income earners.
Ten years later, in 2015, the then chancellor George Osborne said a higher rate band for 25-year-olds would be rebranded (in a rather blatant case of plagiarism up there with copying your homework from the internet and changing a few words and adding some typing errors) as the national living wage. This left the remaining bands for younger age groups to continue as national minimum wage levels, which are currently £5.28 for 16 to 17-year-olds, £7.49 for 17 to 20-year-olds and £10.18 for 21 to 22-year-olds. The statutory national living wage currently pays £10.42 to workers over the age of 22 following a reduction in the age it applied to in 2021.
The real living wage is paid by more than 14,000 employers and their contractors, up from 11,000 last year, including Aviva, Ikea, Burberry and Lush. Katherine Chapman said employers doing so benefitted from “a more motivated and engaged workforce”.
Recent research by LWF found that 50% of low-paid workers were worse off financially than a year ago. This year the foundation said analysis of pay for 3.5 million low-income workers showed that half a million more working women are paid below the real living wage than their male counterparts. Over 2 million women are paid below the real living wage, the foundation said, representing 14% of all working women, compared with just under 10% of men. 60% of jobs that pay below the real living wage are held by women.
Earlier this month the government said the national living wage will rise from £10.42 to at least £11 an hour from April 2024, though Jeremy Hunt is not expected to give a final figure until the autumn statement on 22 November.
A spokesperson said the government would follow the recommendation of the Low Pay Commission, which provides suggested rates for the levels of the national living and minimum wages. The commission, which is yet to release its proposals for next year, estimates the rate needed to meet a government target that it should be at least two-thirds of median hourly pay by October next year, will mean the level is between £10.90 and £11.43.
“Unlike other organisations, the Low Pay Commission also considers the impact of changes to our National Living Wage on businesses and the economy to ensure we strike the right balance,” the spokesperson said in a comment topped with a hint of cynicism suggesting a dislike of the questions on the LWF clipboard.