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The Forgotten Workers: Tackling low-paid workers with multiple jobs

There is growing academic, social policy and political interest in issues around low- pay with approximately 5.5 million UK workers paid below the ‘Real Living Wage’ (RLW). There are also concerns being raised about the rise of people in ‘In-Work Poverty’(IWP) with the latest figures (2016/17) showing 7.4 million people in working families experiencing poverty. Yet successive governments have viewed employment as the best route out of low-pay with the mantra of ‘making work pay’ being again on the agenda in the recent budget.

What is missing from these statistics is any reference to people who have to work in more than one low-paid job to make ends meet. This is the focus of our research - which has never been conducted in the UK before - and we use the term ‘The Forgotten Workers’ to describe these workers.

The Forgotten Workers
We used in depth interviews to speak to low-paid workers in multiple legitimate employment in the regions of Yorkshire and the North-East of England. We expected to speak to workers with 2 or 3 jobs, but were surprised and alarmed to find a number with 4, 5, 6 and even 7 different jobs.
The workers we interviewed were employed in cleaning, catering, the entertainment sector, the care sector, bar work, security, DIY, social services, public services, libraries, education, retail, administration, accountancy and information technology services. A minority had no qualifications, but many had NVQs, GCSEs, ‘O’ levels, ‘A’ levels, good quality degrees and even masters’ degrees.

In terms of employment contracts, there was a combination of full-time, part-time, agency, temporary, seasonal, term-time only, casual and zero hours.  All of the workers interviewed had multiple jobs as they were struggling to make a living, and some made use of foodbanks.

The Causes of low-paid Multiple Employment
The causes and consequences of low-paid multiple employment are arguably related to the deregulated ‘flexible’ labour market. Recent research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation highlights the expansion of insecure work. Also, the TUC reports that only 1 in 40 jobs created since the recession is full-time.  The workers we interviewed needed to acquire additional jobs as a result of low wages, limited working hours, underemployment and job insecurity. Additional causal factors are the proliferation of part-time, zero hours contracts, temporary and casual contracts, along with the agencification of work. Therefore, these people are not in these positions out of choice, these were the only jobs available and they had to work in more than one job due to low wages, limited working hours and opportunities. The people in our study have become trapped in a cycle of multiple low-paid employment.

Proposed solutions
The changing world of work has thrown up a range of challenges and the voices of these Forgotten Workers can no longer be ignored.  Our research affirms the necessity for the adoption of the Real Living Wage, which is set at a level at which people can afford to ‘live’, the National Minimum Wage (NMW) and National Living Wage (NLW) are not. Indeed, some workers we spoke to, when receiving the annual NLW pay rise, had their hours cut by their employer to compensate for the rise, so they actually ended up worse off. Clearly there is a need for clarity/a clause in the NMW (2017) legislation to prevent this.  Along with a recommendation for more effective wage regulation, there also needs to be stronger regulation of working time arrangements with guaranteed hours. Urgent
action must also be placed onto policy agendas to tackle IWP. We strongly recommend guarantees for the provision of more secure jobs with decent working hours and opportunities for progression, together with easier access to effective trade union representation.