The UK is currently experiencing the worst decade of wage stagnation since the Napoleonic era. One in five workers now live in poverty, and the most dramatic rise in poverty has occurred in households where people are in work. The drivers behind this increase are well-documented: significant hikes in living costs (notably housing, childcare and transport), stagnant wages, and cuts to working age benefits as part of fiscal consolidation have all contributed to making workers poorer. Additionally, shifts in the labour market towards high risk, low remuneration work – the gig economy now employs as many people as the public sector – have created extra insecurity for those on the lowest incomes.
Low pay is not just a growing problem for the UK but a persistent one:
just one in six workers escape low pay over a 10-year period.
In the absence of meaningful interventions, low pay signifies a long-term trap for the poorest in our society.
There is no silver bullet to solve the problem of low pay. There is clearly a role for macro level intervention, and the government still has mechanisms at its disposal, including restoring cuts to tax credits and Universal Credit work allowances, ensuring the National Minimum/Living Wage keeps pace with inflation, and measures aimed at improving job design in the vein of The Taylor Review – but these interventions can only go so far. There is also a role for charities and trusts, working locally, to respond to the immediate need in their communities.
In 2015, Trust for London and the Walcot Foundation did just this: they began
funding a 3-year, pan-London, in-work progression pilot called Step Up which trialed
different approaches to tackling in-work poverty, with a view to shaping future
programmes and policy in this area. You can read about the Step Up project at
length in the latest report from the Learning & Work
Institute, but if you only have 5 minutes to spare here are some practical tips
for approaching in-work progression.
Alessy Beaver works for the homeless charity Thames Reach, which supports Londoners to achieve ‘fulfilling lives, supportive relationships and decent homes’. She has coordinated the Step Up project for the past 18 months as part of Thames Reach’s homelessness prevention strategy. Thames Reach is one of six organisations delivering the Step Up project. Find out more here.