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A TUC report published today (Thursday) reveals that one in five (21%) low-paid workers were still stuck in low-paid jobs after 10 years.

The new briefing Pathways to progression: improving progression rates for young retail workers – written by the Fabian Society for the TUC – looks at low-paid employees in 2001-2004 and again in 2014-2016. It finds that across the economy, one in five were unable to progress to decently paid work during the decade.


The report finds that retail is the worst industry for pay and progression. Out of people on low pay in 2001-2004, two in five (42%) who worked in retail were still stuck in low-paid work a decade later.

This is followed by administration (where 40% were still in low-paid work after 10 years) and transport and logistics (35%).

Young workers

Across the economy as a whole, 9 out of 10 low-paid teenagers in 2001-2004 escaped low pay by their late 20s (2014-2016). But in contrast more than a quarter (27%) of employees the same age in retail had not escaped low pay over that period.

The Fabian Society estimates that just over half a million workers aged between 18 and 29 are currently working in low-paid retail work. Median pay for young workers in the sector is £8.42 an hour – lower than the median wage across the economy for workers aged 18-29 (£9.88) and substantially lower than median pay for the population as a whole (£12.18).

The TUC is concerned that without government and employer intervention, a generation of young workers risk being stuck in low-paid retail work with little hope of advancement.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Today’s report shows that despite rising employment, too many people in are trapped in low-paid work for years on end.

“It’s particularly concerning to see such poor progression in industries like retail and administration, where huge swathes of young people put their first toe on the career ladder.

“Unless we boost opportunities and pay we risk losing a generation of young workers to dead-end jobs on low pay with no hope of any career progression.

“Workers deserve so much better. This is why tens of thousands of people will march through London on Saturday 12 May as part of the TUC’s ‘A New Deal for Working People’ demonstration.”

Andrew Harrop, General Secretary of the Fabian Society, said: “Progression opportunities for the average retail worker are few and far between. Retail is now right at the bottom of the pay and progression league tables, and the sector has developed a reputation as a place where people get stuck rather than get on.

“This new Fabian Society research shows that improving pay and progression for retail workers can help companies by increasing retention, broadening the pool of talent and improving productivity. The retail sector must come together with the government on an industrial strategy with good jobs at its heart.”

Editors note

- To improve the prospects for low-paid workers, the TUC is calling on the government to:

  • increase the minimum wage to £10 an hour quickly
  • ban zero-hours contracts
  • give workers stronger rights to negotiate fair pay deals through collective bargaining, and
  • create new sector bodies made up of government, employers and trade unions to discuss pay, skills, productivity and progression in industries characterised by low pay.

- The full report is available at
- The TUC is holding a march and rally on London on Saturday 12 May demanding a new deal for working people. For more information on A New Deal For Working People visit:
- The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together more than 5.5 million working people who make up our 49 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living.
- The Fabian Society is Britain’s oldest political think tank. Founded in 1884, the society is at the forefront of developing political ideas and public policy on the left. The society is alone among think tanks in being a democratically-constituted membership organisation, with over 7,000 members. It is also constitutionally affiliated to the Labour party.

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