A new report by tax and auditing firm KPMG says that one in five workers in the UK are being paid less than the living wage, with Northern Ireland and Wales having the highest proportion.
The report also suggests that those workers being paid less than the living wage are the worst hit by the economic squeeze. The number has leapt by more than 400,000 in the last year.
The living wage, currently at £8.55 in London and £7.45 elsewhere, is an informal benchmark by which workers are said to easily cover the basic costs of living.
Whilst 16% of workers in London are not being paid the living wage, this figure stands at 24% for Northern Ireland and 23% in Wales. Yorkshire & Humberside, the East Midlands and the West Midlands follow closely with 22%. Bar and restaurant staff and cleaners are said to be among the worst affected.
Labour leader Ed Miliband said on Sunday that, if elected in the next general election, he would introduce tax breaks for firms in order to encourage the living wage being paid to employees.
Commenting on the figures, Marianne Fallon, head of corporate affairs at KPMG, said, “This research really lays bare the extent of the problem of low pay in Britain. Times are difficult for many people, but of course those on the lowest pay are suffering the most.
“Paying a living wage makes a huge difference to the individuals and their families and yet does not actually cost an employer much more”.
Rhys Moore, director of the Living Wage Foundation, also commented, saying, “Paying a living wage makes a huge difference to the quality of life of thousands of cleaners, caterers and security staff across the country.
“It is really encouraging to see nearly 100 organisations now signed up and accredited. But that still leaves many more organisations that aren’t. We hope that Living Wage Week will create real momentum and that many more employers will sign up.”