The prospect of minimum wages not rising fast enough in the UK will be a bitter pill to swallow for many workers. According to new research from money.co.uk, British minimum wage increases have been relatively low in comparison to other countries, with the UK having “missed out” on making it into the top 10 countries for rises.
What are the current minimum wage rates?
Currently, there are different national minimum wages applicable in the UK, which vary according to age and working status. The current rates, as of April 2021, are as follows:
- 23 and over: £8.91
- 21 to 22: £8.36
- 18 to 20: £6.56
- Under 18: £4.62
- Apprentices: £4.30
Wage rates have been impacted by furlough and the ongoing pandemic but according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), millions of workers are affected by minimum wage rates. In November 2020, ONS data showed there were 2,043,000 employee jobs with employees aged 16 years and over who were paid below the National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage (7.2 percent of employee jobs) in April 2020.
This compares with 409,000 in 2019 but the ONS noted “no conclusions should be drawn about the percentage change because new rates are introduced at the start of April, at which point in 2020 many employees were furloughed and a pay rise was not reasonable”.
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How are wage rates and demands impacting the economy?
In September, Hargreaves Lansdown released research on how businesses are struggling to fill vacancies. According to its findings, 13 percent of all businesses say it’s harder to fill vacancies than usual, up from nine percent in August.
One of the most common reasons (15 percent) for this was said to be the roles not paying enough for applicants.
Sarah Coles, a personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, commented: “Among the available talent pool, some firms struggle with the fact that the pay isn’t good enough to attract staff. This is a particular problem for professional, scientific and technical roles. It’s also something regularly faced by businesses paying minimum wage for difficult work – such as care.
“We’ve already seen this theme emerge in company reports, where businesses ranging from hospitality to computer games development have raised concerns about recruiting difficulties. In some cases, this means businesses are struggling to operate effectively, which in turn is putting the brakes on GDP.
“We’re also hearing reports of wage increases to attract staff, and while this is good news for those in underpaid careers, it causes issues for employers, who are seeing a squeeze on all of their costs, so a higher wage bill is the last thing they need.”
How will employment be impacted by the end of the furlough scheme?
Over the last 18 months or so, millions of workers have been placed on furlough leave as employers struggled with the impact of coronavirus. The furlough scheme will end on September 30 and many experts have warned that, as businesses face sudden rising wage demands, employers will have no choice but to let go of staff they can no longer afford to keep.
Last week, as the Bank of England elected to keep the base rate at 0.1 percent, Andrew Bailey, the Governor of the Bank of England, wrote a letter to Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak which addressed the impact of the furlough scheme.
Mr Bailey said: “The Labour Force Survey unemployment rate fell to 4.6 percent in the three months to July, slightly below the expectations in the August Report. The number of full and part-time furloughed jobs has continued to decline, but, on the basis of the most recent reported number of 1.7 million in July, to a materially lesser degree than estimated in the August Report.
“There have been few signs of any increase in redundancies, and the stock of vacancies has increased further, as have indicators of recruitment difficulties. Bank staff’s estimate of underlying pay growth has picked up, to above its pre-pandemic rate.
“Uncertainty around the outlook for the labour market has therefore increased. Key questions include how the economy will adjust to the closure of the furlough scheme at the end of September; the extent, impact and duration of any change in unemployment; as well as the degree and persistence of any difficulties in matching available jobs with workers.”
What should workers do to prepare for the end of furlough?
With uncertainty mounting as the furlough scheme ends, workers have been urged to get prepared for tough times ahead. Money.co.uk noted if workers are still receiving furlough payments “of any kind, even if it’s just a small percentage of your wage packet”, they will stop from next week.
With this in mind, James Andrews, a senior personal finance expert at money.co.uk, suggested what workers should do to get ready.
“If you’ve been receiving furlough payments of any kind this month, it’s vital you take a look at your personal finances and work out how the scheme ending is going to affect you,” he said.
“It’s also important to remember that while you’ll make more money going back to the day job, you’ll also face higher costs for things like your commute, lunches and other workplace expenses. If you think you’re going to face a reduction in income, now is the time to shake up your personal finances and budget wisely, to make sure you’re in the best possible situation for the month ahead.
“Work out when your bills go out each month and record your outgoings on a spreadsheet or even pen and paper. If you find you have more money going out than coming in each month, try switching a few services such as broadband or mobile phone tariff to cheaper alternatives.”
Where workers are facing reduced income levels upon their return to work, or they fear they’re at a risk of redundancy, Mr Andrews suggested exploring what support may be available.
“Be sure to apply for Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA) and look into Universal Credit to see if you can apply for support, but note that this support can take weeks to be approved,” he said.
“If you’re really struggling and need short term support, you can get independent advice from several specialist services. StepChange is a charity that provides advice and help on budget and debt management. Similarly, Citizens Advice and National Debtline offer free, confidential advice to people facing debt problems in the UK.”