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Issue date
  • NEW POLL: 50% of low-paid workers have suffered income loss in the pandemic, compared to 29% of high earners
  • TUC budget submission published today calls for a “workers’ budget” and extension of JRS to the end of 2021

New polling, published today (Monday) by the TUC, finds that low earners are more likely than middle and higher earners to have been forced to cut spending and take on debt during the pandemic.

The poll findings (conducted for the TUC by BritainThinks) come as the TUC publishes its budget submission, which calls on the Chancellor to improve pandemic support for low- paid workers, and to invest in job protection and creation to prevent an unemployment crisis following the pandemic.

Low paid workers and the pandemic's impacts

Over a third (37%) of workers said that their household had suffered a reduction in disposable income since the pandemic began.

This rises to half (50%) for workers with annual earnings below £15k, while it is just three in ten (29%) for workers earning more than £50k.

The lowest earners are also the most likely to have had to reduce spending and take on debt.

Percentage of workers saying that since start of pandemic they have....

Annual earnings

(1) Less disposable income

(2) Needed to reduce spending

(3) Taken on more debt

Less than £15k




Between £15k and £29k




Between £29k and £50k




More than £50k




All workers




The TUC says that low-paid workers have been worse affected because:

  • Insecure work: Low paid workers are often employed on terms such as zero-hours contracts, which give them no protection when their hours of work are cut back.
  • Household budget flexibility: Workers who are already struggling on low pay have much less flexibility than middle and higher earners to reduce spending and avoid debt.
  • Hard-hit sectors: Hospitality, leisure and non-essential retail have had by far the highest rates of furlough, and they are both sectors with large numbers of low-paid workers.
  • Remote working: Middle and high wage earners are more likely to have jobs that can be done form home, meaning they can avoid the need to be furloughed and may also make savings such as their usual commuting costs.
  • Furlough is protecting incomes but can pay less than minimum wage: The job retention scheme does not have a floor, meaning that some workers receiving 80% of their wages have fallen below the minimum wage. Two million employees were paid below the minimum wage in April 2020 (compared to 409,000 in April 2019) and the majority of these were on furlough at the time.

TUC Budget submission

The TUC’s budget submission, published today, calls for a workers’ budget.

The union body encourages the Chancellor to follow the recommendations of the OECD to make greater use of fiscal policy to support the economy.

By increasing support for working people and low-income households, the Chancellor would also be using fiscal policy to protect the economy and stimulate recovery.

TUC budget recommendations include:

  • Extending the job retention scheme to the end of 2021.
  • A wage floor within JRS to prevent furlough pay falling below the minimum wage.
  • Permanent retention of the £20 per week increase in universal credit, and an end to the five-week wait for new universal credit claimants to receive payment.
  • Increasing child benefit and child tax credit and removing the two-child limit.
  • Fixing statutory sick pay by raising it to £330 per week (to match the level of the real Living Wage) and by extending eligibility to the two million low-paid workers currently excluded from SSP.
  • Raising the national minimum wage to at least £10 per hour.

The full submission includes further recommendations to invest in job creation and boost skills – including retaining the £12 million Union Learning Fund, which supports 200,000 workplace learners annually.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“When a crisis hits, the most exposed should get the most protection. But many low-paid workers are struggling through the pandemic on less money and with higher costs. And they are falling into deeper poverty and debt.

“Good government means stepping in to help. The Chancellor should help by extending furlough to the end of the year, with a guarantee that support will never be less than minimum wage. And last year’s boost to universal credit should be kept – permanently.

“Many of these low earners are key workers who have kept our country going. We owe it to them to build a fairer economy after the pandemic. The Chancellor should give Britain a workers’ budget next month. It should be a plan for full employment, with decent pay and job security for every worker.”

Editors note

- TUC budget submission: The full TUC Budget submission is here:

- Polling info: BritainThinks conducted an online survey of 2,231 in England and Wales between 19th November – 29th November 2020. All respondents were either in work, on furlough, or recently made redundant. Survey data has been weighted to be representative of the working population in England and Wales by age, gender, socioeconomic grade, working hours and security of work in line with ONS Labour Force survey data.

Respondent were asked if they agreed with the following statements:

(1) My household’s amount/ level of disposable income has decreased since the Coronavirus crisis began.

(2) I have had to cut back spending at the end of the week or month more since the Coronavirus crisis began because I might run out of money or have run out.

(3) My levels of debt have increased since the Coronavirus crisis began.

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