The UK Government has been accused of “turning a blind eye” to the financial struggles experienced by large numbers of households across Britain, after a new report warned that average earnings are still £13 a week lower than ten years ago.
The report, published by the Resolution Foundation thinktank on Wednesday, finds that the poorest third of households have accounted for over half of the increase in employment since the start of the financial crisis.
However, it cautions against taking this at face value, because the rise in employment has been at least partly fueled by a growing number of people working in insecure jobs.
There are currently an estimated 800,000 workers on zero-hours contracts, that all too often do not come with a guarantee of hours or offer the same rights at other contract types.
The report says that whilst Britain is now close to so-called “full employment”, this “impressive” growth in employment has been mired by years of slow or non-existent wage rises.
It adds that many disadvantaged groups still face significant “employment gaps” compared to the rest of the population, and calls on the Government to do more to help these groups into well-paid jobs.
Furthermore, around 60% of people living in poverty today are in work, rubbishing claims by Government ministers that moving into work is still the best way to escape economic hardship.
People with disabilities are among those cited by the report who have not benefited as much as others from the growth in employment, with only around 45% of disabled people in work last year.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show the “disability employment gap”, the difference between the number of disabled and non-disabled people in work, has barely changed over the last decade, remaining “stubbornly high” at around 30%.
James Taylor, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at disability charity Scope, said of the ONS findings: “Many disabled people face an unnecessary struggle to get into and stay in work, largely due to employers’ outdated attitudes and inflexible working practices.”
Commenting on the Resolution Foundation’s report, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It’s taking wages longer to recover from this crash than it did after the Great Depression.
“The government is turning a blind eye to Britain’s living standards crisis. Ministers must get wages rising faster now.”
Stephen Clarke, Senior Economic Analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “Britain has experienced a huge living standards slump but its incredible employment record has provided a much-needed bright spark amidst the gloom of the pay squeeze.
“We have avoided the unemployment highs of previous recessions and seen employment reach record levels, with over two million more people in work compared to a decade ago.
“But even better than the scale of Britain’s employment growth is who is getting those jobs. Lower income families have accounted for the majority of Britain’s jobs growth, showing that pushing for full employment can boost living standards.
“But while employment is at a record high, Britain is still some way off full employment and too much work remains low paid and insecure. With fewer than half of people with a disability or ill-health currently in work, targeted support for these groups holds the key to achieving further employment progress.
“Steps to provide advance notice of shifts and a right to a regular contract for those working regular hours on a zero hour contract would also help those in work who have precious little job security.”