The drive for better work: tackling the causes and consequences of in-work poverty

By Connor Stevens


20 06 2019


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The UK is currently experiencing a sustained period of labour market success. Unemployment is at its lowest level in over 40 years at 3.8%, and employment is at a record high at 76.1%. Yet, the experience of local authorities, charities and support services from across the country tells a very different story, with far too many workers still living in poverty and struggling to make ends meet.

Last month, the Resolution Foundation brought welcome news that the National Living Wage (NLW) has helped to deliver the first concrete fall in low pay since the 1970’s – with the number of adults earning less than two-thirds of median earnings falling from 20.7% to 17.1% since 2015.

Whilst there is good reason to celebrate, 24% of workers are still earning less than the Real Living Wage (RLW) – that’s the amount deemed necessary to maintain satisfactory living standards. Capacity to further increase the NLW in line with the RLW is likely restricted by caution from policy makers linked to political and economic uncertainty, limiting future potential to close the gap.

Moreover, non-pay related factors also continue to impact workers. Recent research from the Living Wage Foundation found one-in-six workers are in low paid, insecure forms of work, including contracts with unpredictable hours and pay.

The National Living Wage has proven successful, but represents just one in a basket of tools necessary to combat in-work poverty and should not be expected to meet the government’s ambition to “end low pay” on its own.

The government and other stakeholders must utilise all tools available to them in order to effectively tackle the causes and consequences of in-work poverty. For example, improving employment support and access to learning for those in low pay, whilst also working with employers to expand progression pathways and encourage better practice.

Next Monday, the Better Work Network will hold its inaugural Better Work Conference. The conference will focus on the opportunities and challenges arising through the mission to end low pay. Attendees will hear from key experts and practioners, including the Living Wage Foundation, DWP and BEIS, who will share insight on the types of innovative approaches that can be taken to support in-work progression.

The conference will also mark the launch of new publications and resources by Learning and Work Institute, including:

  • An online national database of progression-focused initiatives
  • A summary guide detailing top tips for commissioners of in-work progression support
  • The evaluations of the Step Up and ESF In-Work Progression pilots

Connor Stevens, research manager, Learning and Work Institute