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Pay in working class jobs

Report type
Research and reports
Issue date
Key findings

Millions of people in working class jobs have seen their pay flatline over the last decade. That's why we need a new deal for workers.

Download Pay in working class jobs report (pdf)

The Trades Union Congress was founded to advance the “general interests of the working classes”, and that remains our core mission today. While working class jobs may have changed with the shift to a service economy, the experience of poor pay, long hours, and class discrimination that the union movement has fought against remains all too common in today’s UK.

This note is the first in a series of TUC reports looking at the experience of today’s working classes. It shows that for most jobs, pay has been stagnant for almost a decade.

The seven million employees in jobs that earn less than median wages (£12.70 an hour in 2018) but aren’t in low paid jobs (defined here as 75 per cent of the median, or £9.60 an hour) have seen their pay flatline over the decade.

The minimum wage has helped push up pay at the very bottom – but without strong trade unions to ensure gains are widely shared, pay for those in jobs paid below the median is stagnating.

In contrast, those in the highest paid jobs, earning more than twice the median UK wage (over £26 an hour) have seen their pay packets increase by £1.26 an hour, a rise of four per cent, over the same period. For someone working a 35-hour week that would add up to a pay rise of £44 a week.

The analysis also shows how working-class jobs have changed; with retail and care workers now the largest occupations for those earning less than the median wage. And today’s working class is diverse. Looking at those in the worst paid jobs, both black and minority ethnic (BME) workers and women are overrepresented, whereas these groups are both under-represented amongst the higher earners.

Pay is just one aspect of work – and we know that many working-class people are experiencing increased insecurity, work intensification, including the use of new forms of surveillance and control at work, and a lack of voice. That’s why the TUC is campaigning for a new deal that gives working class people the power to bargain for the better jobs they deserve.

Introduction

The Trades Union Congress was founded to advance the “general interests of the working classes” [1] , and that remains our core mission today. While working class jobs may have changed with the shift to a service economy, the experience of long hours, poor pay, and class discrimination that the union movement has fought against remains all too common in today’s UK.

This note is the first in a series of analyses looking at class in Britain today, and how the union movement can achieve its historic mission in the twenty-first century.

We know that there are many contested definitions of the term ‘working class’ itself. At its broadest, the term can mean everyone who works for a living – and we know (and show here) how workers have lost out in comparison to those who earn their money from owning capital.

A standard definition of class is based on an occupational analysis used by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which typically categorises ‘working class’ jobs as those in ‘routine or semi-routine’ occupations. But we think this is too narrow a way to think of common working-class experiences; these jobs cover just 20 per cent of the working population, [2] whereas we know that around 60 per cent of people see themselves as working class.[3]

Instead here we look at class through the lens of both occupation and pay, looking at the experiences of people in jobs paid above and below the median, and at the low and high paid, as an approach to thinking about working class experiences today.

Class is about more than pay, and both within and outside work the experience of class encompasses issues of status and respect, control, and voice. We aim to try to capture more of these experiences in our future work.

In this note we look at:

  • Pay in working class jobs
  • Working class jobs today – and the types of occupations that are paid below the median
  • Who’s doing working class jobs and working class diversity; and
  • The new deal for working people we need.

[1] TUC, Our History: https://www.tuc.org.uk/about-the-tuc/our-history

[2] ONS (2019) Employment by socio-economic classification (EMP11)https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/datasets/employmentbysocioeconomicclassificationemp11

[3] Geoffrey Evans and Jonathan Mellon (2016) ' Social Class Identity, awareness and political attitudes: why are we still working class?' at http://www.bsa.natcen.ac.uk/media/39094/bsa33_social-class_v5.pdf