The TUC has called for an urgent “economic reset” in order to tackle the way the pandemic has exacerbated the class divide in Britain.
This comes as the union has published new data showing that low-income workers continue to bear the brunt of the pandemic with little or no option to work from home, no or low sick pay, and reduced living standards.
Describing coronavirus as “a tale of two pandemics”, many better-off workers have enjoyed improved working conditions, with greater accessibility to flexible work, financial stability, and increased spending power.
The TUC polling shows that those earning less than £15,000 are twice as likely as those earning more than £50,000 to say they have cut back on spending since the pandemic began (28 per cent compared to 16 per cent).
The pandemic continues to affect working life, with high earners around three times more likely than low-paid workers to receive a pay rise in the next twelve months, standing at 37 per cent compared to 12 per cent.
The pandemic has made many companies scrutinise their sick pay policies, but the Covid class divide is also prevalent in this area, as many low-paid workers are markedly more likely to get low or no sick pay compared to higher earners.
The research found that lower earners are four times more likely than higher earners to say they cannot afford to take time off work when sick, at 24 per cent compared to six percent.
This is because low-paid workers are much less likely to get full pay when off sick, with only a third (35 per cent) entitled to full sick pay, as opposed to 80 per cent of high paid workers.
The TUC has been calling for an increase to statutory sick pay, which currently stands at less than 100 pounds a week (£96.35).
Currently, more than two million low-paid workers, most of whom are women, are currently excluded from this, because they do not earn enough to qualify.
This is in spite of the fact that low paid workers are significantly more likely (three times) than high paid workers to say they cannot work from home, meaning they face a greater risk of contracting COVID-19.
The union body is warning that without an economic reset, the government’s levelling up agenda will be “doomed to failure”, with the TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady commenting:
Everyone deserves dignity at work and a job they can build a life on. But too many working people – often key workers – are struggling to pay the bills and put food on the table.
It has been a tale of two pandemics. This Covid class divide has seen low-paid workers bear the brunt of the pandemic, while the better off have enjoyed greater financial security, often getting richer.
This should be a wake up call – we need an economic reset. It’s time for a new age of dignity and security at work.
Without fundamental change, the government’s own levelling up agenda will be doomed to failure. And we risk repeating the same old mistakes of the past decade – allowing insecure work to spiral even further.
The TUC has issued a list of advice to ministers, saying that in order to prevent unnecessary hardship in the coming months, they must:
- Extend the furlough scheme for as long as is needed to protect jobs and livelihoods and put in place a permanent short-time working scheme to protect workers at times of economic change
- Cancel the planned £20 cut to Universal Credit
Alongisde this, the TUC is urging ministers to include a number of work-related policies in their post-pandemic reset, including:
- Banning zero hours contracts
- Raising the minimum wage immediately to at least £10
- Increasing statutory sick pay to a real Living Wage and make it available to all
- Introducing new rights for workers to bargain for better pay and conditions through their unions