Strong progress has been made on raising wages for the lowest paid, but the UK still remains a “laggard” on employment standards, a new report has said.
The Resolution Foundation’s latest figures show the minimum wage has driven salaries up in the UK, with the number of people on the lowest wages falling below 10%, compared to 20% in 2015.
Only France, New Zealand and South Korea have a higher minimum wage.
However, the report also found that workers only earned a tenth of their normal wage if they fell ill for a week, saying the “paucity” of statutory sick pay (SSP), which is £110 per week, was especially damaging for those on a low income, who are more likely to rely on it.
The think tank, which is run by former Labour adviser Torsten Bell, added its research showed low earners were more than twice as likely as higher earners to say they have little to no autonomy at work, and four times more likely to experience volatility in their working patterns and pay.
Former cabinet ministers Priti Patel and Sir Robert Buckland have called on the government to make “simple tweaks” to the SSP policy, to “ensure all workers get sick pay paid by their employer from day one if they are ill”.
In an open letter, the pair said: “Changes to sick pay could complement other measures already announced in Jeremy Hunt’s Back to Work budget and encourage this group to return to work and play their part in Britain’s economy.”
Unions have also called for changes to the way SSP is paid.
Nye Cominetti, senior economist at the Resolution Foundation, said: “We should celebrate the progress that Britain has made on tackling low pay thanks to the national living wage, while recognising that we have a long way to go on job quality.
“Too many low earners suffer from poor quality work, be it from inadequate sick pay or unacceptable uncertainty about when they will be expected to work. Too often work means very different things to lower and higher earners.
“Not enough of the former enjoy the basics of dignity, respect and security that the latter take for granted. “That’s why we need a new ‘good work agenda’ that goes beyond a higher minimum wage so that workers see improvements to the quality of their jobs as well as the size of their pay packets.”
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What is driving wages up?
A government spokesperson said: “We are committed to making sure work pays and to further improving workers’ rights and supporting people to stay in employment.
“Eligible employees can get statutory sick pay if they’re too ill to work, which is paid by their employer for up to 28 weeks. Some employers may also decide to pay more, and for longer, through occupational sick pay, and many do.
“Our welfare system provides a strong financial safety net for anyone with a disability or long-term health condition, while we are supporting six Private Members’ Bills which will help deliver on our commitment to enhance workers’ rights – helping new parents, unpaid carers, hospitality workers, giving all employees easier access to flexible working, and giving workers a right to request a more predictable working pattern.”