Hundreds of Essex key workers considered critical to the UK’s response to the coronavirus crisis are earning below the so-called “real living wage”, data suggests.
In Basildon more than a quarter of key workers (25.6 per cent) earn less than the living wage and in Brentwood the figure is even higher at 26.8 per cent.
The figure for Thurrock is 24.6 per cent while in Southend that figure comes down slightly to 23.1 per cent.
The real living wage is a voluntary scheme devised by the Living Wage Foundation. It is calculated independently from the government and is based on costs such as food, clothing and household bills.
One in five UK employees earn below the Living Wage Foundation rates, including hundreds of thousands of key workers including hospital cleaners and porters, teaching assistants and carers.
The Living Wage Foundation rates are currently £10.75 an hour for those working within London and £9.30 an hour for those working in the UK outside London.
The scheme is separate to the statutory National Living Wage, which is the legally-binding hourly rate for workers aged 25 and over. It is reviewed every year just like the National Minimum Wage (for under 25s).
The government raised the National Living Wage to £8.72 an hour from April 1.
The GMB union said the coronavirus crisis had shone a light on the “rock-bottom pay” of the people “expected to risk their health to protect us”. It says more than three million workers could be affected and called for key workers’ wages to be raised.
Economists have, however, urged against further wage rises before the full toll of the crisis is clear. The Low Pay Commission, an independent body which advises the government, warned it might be necessary to apply an “emergency brake” on long-term plans to continue to lift the statutory minimum.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “It is right we ensure the lowest paid are fairly rewarded for their contribution to the economy, particularly those working in essential services during the biggest threat this country has faced in decades.
“This year’s increase to the National Living Wage means we will be putting an extra £930 a year into the pockets of 2.4 million of the UK’s lowest paid workers.”