Living wage 'out of reach' for most women working part-time, says TUC

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The majority of women working part-time earn less than the living wage in over 50 local authority areas across Britain, according to research published today (28 August) by the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

Today (28 August, two-thirds of the way through 2014) is effectively the last day this year that women working part-time get paid. This is because they earn just 66p for every pound earned by men working full-time (which is a pay gap of 34.2 per cent). One of the main reasons for this huge gender pay divide is the large concentration of women doing low-paid, part-time work, says the TUC.

Across the UK, around two in five part-time jobs pay less than the living wage. But TUC analysis of official figures from the House of Commons Library shows that earning less than the living wage is the norm for women in many parts of the country.

In West Lancashire for example, almost three-quarters (73.9 per cent) of women working part-time earn less than the living wage. West Somerset has the next highest proportion of low-paid, part-time female workers, where more than two-thirds of women earn less than the living wage.

London has a higher living wage – currently £8.80 an hour, compared to £7.65 across the rest of the country – due to the greater cost of living in the capital. But despite this higher wage, the TUC research shows that there are five local authority areas – Bexley, Newham, Merton, Redbridge and Waltham Forest – where most female part-time workers earn less than the London living wage.

Watford has the smallest proportion of low-paid, part-time workers. Here, just one in six women (16.9 per cent) working part-time earn less than the living wage.

TUC research published earlier this year found that while part-time work is heavily concentrated among low-paid jobs – two-thirds of the 2.6 million jobs in the ten worst-paid professions are done on a part-time basis – top paying professions remain ‘no-go’ areas for part-time workers. Less than one in seven employees in the ten best paying professions work part-time.

With women accounting for almost three-quarters of Britain’s six-million strong part-time workforce, the lack of skilled, decently-paid, part-time jobs affects women’s pay and their career prospects far more than it does men, says the TUC.

The TUC is concerned that despite two years of economic growth, working people across Britain are still suffering the longest real wage squeeze in over a century. Last month, official earnings growth reached its lowest level since records began. For many low-paid workers, smaller pay packets are making it harder to afford essential items such as food, transport and energy bills.

The TUC would like to see more employers paying the living wage. This would help tackle the growing scourge of in-work poverty and make big inroads into closing what it sees as the scandalous 34 per cent part-time gender pay gap.

The government could lead by example, says the TUC, by ensuring that all Whitehall departments pay the living wage and by using its £140 billion annual procurement budget to boost take-up of the wage amongst private companies that win public contracts.

The TUC also wants to see more jobs advertised on a part-time basis, ending the requirement that women have to be in post for six months before they have the right to request flexible working. Many women feel unable to ask about the possibility of a shorter working week during an interview for fear it could adversely affect their chances of success, says the TUC.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Women are bearing the brunt of growing in-work poverty across Britain today.

“The living wage was created so that work can provide staff with a basic standard of living. But in many parts of Britain, most women working part-time are way off earning this.

“Women of all ages and skill levels often find themselves trapped in low-paid jobs. Opening up more senior jobs to part-time working is part of the solution. But we also need to look at why so many jobs in Britain pay so little when employers can easily afford to pay staff more.

“Women would gain most from a greater take-up of the living wage by employers. But tackling in-work poverty through better wages for our lowest-paid workers helps everyone in the long run as it would help secure a fair and more sustainable economic recovery.”

* A breakdown of the number of people paid below the living wage by local authority area and parliamentary constituency is available at www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/House%20of%20Commons%20LW%20data.xlsx

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