Laid low

The impacts of the Covid-19 crisis on low-paid and insecure workers

Wilson T, Buzzeo J |   | Institute for Employment Studies  | Jan 2021

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This is the final report of a mixed methods project exploring the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on low paid workers. The project has been funded by Standard Life Foundation. This report presents new analysis from the Labour Force Survey, a summary of in-depth research with forty low-paid workers conducted after the first lockdown, and findings from a series of workshops and interviews with stakeholders involved in research, advocacy and public policy on low pay.

The report finds that in this current lockdown it is likely that around two thirds of low paid workers – or four million people – are either temporarily laid off or working fewer hours than normal.  This would be double the rate of work disruption for staff who are not low paid.  Employment loss has been driven by falls in a range of lower-paying jobs – in particular food services and manufacturing, hospitality, residential care and construction – but even in sectors less affected by the crisis, the lowest paid have lost out. 

The in-depth interviews and consultations found that while emergency support measures like the furlough scheme and increases in Universal Credit have helped cushion the impacts of this crisis, many of those in low pay had slipped through the cracks.  In a range of cases, low paid workers reported being denied furlough, having their hours cut, being expected to work without adequate protection, and seeing their living costs increase while their incomes fell.

The report calls for action to better support low paid workers as the pandemic continues and to support full employment and decent jobs in the recovery.

In particular it calls for government to extend ‘flexible furlough’ through to Autumn to provide income support for those whose work continues to be disrupted; to maintain and increase support through the social security system; to reform Statutory Sick Pay; and to prioritise skills investment, labour market enforcement, local partnerships and employer engagement in order to support full employment and decent work in the recovery.