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  • A fifth of key workers say that they have run out of money before pay day, or feared they might run out
  • Some key workers say they’ve had to take on second jobs or use food banks
  • Union body calls on government to prioritise a pay rise for key workers in the forthcoming spending review

One in five (20%) key workers say that they have had to reduce their spending during the Covid-19 outbreak, according to a new TUC poll published today (Monday).

The polling, carried out for the TUC by BritainThinks, revealed a fifth of key workers said they cut back their spending at the end of the week or month because they faced running out of money, or because they had already run out of money.

Financial hardship

The survey shines a light on the financial hardship experienced by key workers during the pandemic:

  • Around one in nine (11%) told the TUC that their levels of debt had increased since the pandemic began.
  • Around one in 17 (6%) said that they had taken on a second job to make ends meet.
  • One in 33 (3%) key workers said they had used food banks.
  • More than one in four (27%) told the TUC that they don’t believe they receive a fair wage for the work that they do.

Key worker poverty

Analysis published by the TUC in July found that over a million children of key workers are currently living in poverty.

The union body says the main reasons for key worker family poverty are low pay (one in three keyworkers earn less than £10 an hour) and insecure hours.

Support urgently needed for key workers

The TUC is calling on the government to urgently prioritise decent living standards for key workers in the forthcoming spending review by: 

  • Raising the national minimum wage to £10 per hour immediately.
  • Ending the freeze on public service workers’ pay and give all public service workers a decent pay rise.
  • Funding the public sector so that all outsourced workers are paid at least the real Living Wage and get parity with directly employed staff.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Our shop workers, care assistants and school support staff have worked tirelessly to keep this country going through the pandemic.

“The very least they deserve in return for their hard work is a decent standard of living for their families.

“But many are struggling just to pay their basic bills and put food on the table. And one in five are facing the trauma of running out of money before pay day. That’s not right.

“Enough is enough. Ministers must use the autumn spending review to give all of our key workers the pay rise they so badly need. We must get the minimum wage up to £10 an hour to stop millions of working people from living in poverty.”  

Editors note

- BritainThinks: The BritainThinks online survey was conducted in May 2021 with a sample of 2,134 workers in England and Wales – nationally representative according to ONS Labour Force Survey Data. For more information about BritainThinks please visit:  
- Key workers are defined as those who selected they were a key worker in the context of Covid-19.
- Non key workers reported similar levels of financial problems in the polling – but demand for key workers has remained constant throughout the pandemic so the TUC would have expected them to have fared better than other workers whose jobs may have been furloughed or at risk of redundancy. Around one in five (20%) non key workers told the TUC they had to reduce their spending. Around one in eight (13%) said that their levels of debt had increased since the pandemic began. One in 25 (4%) had taken on a second job.
- One million children in key worker households live in poverty:
- One in three key workers earn less than £10 an hour:
- The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together the 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living.

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