One in five Brits still trapped in working poverty, finds KPMG report

1 in 5 Brits still trapped in working poverty

One in five people (21 percent) in the UK are still earning below the real Living Wage*, meaning that an estimated 5.5 million employees are struggling to get out of in-work poverty, according to a new report published today by KPMG.


The research, conducted by IHS Markit for KPMG, found that the total number earning below the real Living Wage is down slightly by 100,000 compared to last year, when an estimated 22 percent of all jobs and 5.6 million roles paid less than the real Living Wage. This is the first reduction in five years, but still leaves the total of one million more people earning below the real Living Wage than in 2012.

For five years in a row, the research finds that women are considerably more likely to be paid below the real Living Wage than men. With nearly 225,000 more women in work than last year, this year’s data shows that just over one in four (26 percent) of female employees earn less than the real Living Wage, compared to 16 percent of all males. In numerical terms this equates to 3.4 million female employees versus 2.1 million male employees.

Around 3.1 million part-time employees earn less than the real Living Wage, compared with 2.4 million full-time workers. Part-time jobs are around three times more likely to pay below £8.45 per hour (or £9.75 in London) than full-time roles. Some 42 percent of part-time workers now earn less than the real Living Wage, compared with 13 percent full-time workers. Indeed the difference is so stark that despite accounting for less than one-third (28 percent) of all UK jobs, part-time roles represent more than half (56 percent) of all jobs paying less than the real Living Wage.

Regionally, Northern Ireland has the highest proportion of jobs earning below the real Living Wage at 26
percent, followed by the East Midlands, Yorkshire and Humber, Wales and the West Midlands all at around 24 percent. The lowest proportion of employees earning less than the Living Wage is found in the South East at 17 percent, Scotland at 18 percent and London at 19 percent.

However, by number of people rather than proportion, London at around 750,000, followed by the South East and North West at an estimated 635,000 each are the areas with the highest levels. 

Commenting on the number of people earning below the real Living Wage, Andy Bagnall, Director at KPMG UK, said: “Today’s figures show that more work needs to be done if we are to eradicate in-work poverty. It’s unfortunate that in 2017 more than 5 million working people in the UK are earning below the real Living Wage and cannot enjoy the standard of life so many of us take for granted.

“In the past, many businesses were worried that increased wages would hit their bottom line, but there is ample evidence to suggest otherwise. By paying the real Living Wage since 2006 KPMG has seen improved staff morale, a rise in service standards, improved retention of staff and increased productivity. More importantly, it has been an enabler for social mobility.

“It is clear that it may not be possible or practical for everyone, but businesses need to do what they can to address the problem of low pay. Of course, change cannot happen instantly, but making an initial assessment is an important first step.”

Katherine Chapman, Living Wage Foundation Director said: “Today’s figures show that, whilst moving in the right direction, there are still 5.5 million people earning less than the real Living Wage across the UK and with the cost of living increasing as inflation rises, those on lowest incomes are really feeling the squeeze. The new
Living Wage rates will be announced tomorrow and with tough times ahead it’s more important than ever that great employers are stepping up to ensure that their staff earn a wage that ensures workers can live with dignity.”

Household finances survey

The analysis also explored household finances of both those earning below the Living Wage and those earning the Living Wage and above. It revealed that even though the number of people earning below the real Living Wage has slightly decreased, around four times as many respondents earning less than the real Living Wage indicated that their household finances had worsened (27 percent) as those that experienced an improvement (7 percent) in October 2017.

 It also found:

  • A sharp increase in the cost of living for those earning below the real Living Wage, with around 59 percent of those earning below the threshold reporting an increase, compared to only 3 percent that signalled a decline.
  • Nearly twice as many (17 percent) of those earning below the real Living Wage noted a decline in pay compared to those that recorded an increase (9 percent). This contrasted with the picture seen for employees earning above the real Living Wage, who registered an upturn in pay (as has been the case since 2013). 
  • At the same time, people earning less than the real Living Wage recorded a steeper fall in job security compared to a year ago. More than one in five (21 percent) of employees earning below the threshold signalled a drop in job security, compared with just 8 percent that noted an improvement.

Looking ahead, UK households believe that the cost of living will continue to rise markedly over the coming year. Notably, expectations for living costs over the next 12 months were at a four-year high for both those earnings above and below the real Living Wage in October 2017. Nearly four out of five (78 percent) employees earning less than the real Living Wage forecast a further hike in living costs over the next year, while just 2 percent anticipate a fall.

“Even though the number of people earning below the real Living Wage has slightly decreased, the reality is that those at the bottom of the pay scale are really feeling the squeeze due to increases in the cost of living and decline in pay. Looking ahead, a rise in inflation levels will further eat into the pay-packets of those already struggling – it’s time for the business community to play its part to help those working earn a respectable wage”, concluded Bagnall

- ENDS -

Historical overview of UK voluntary Living Wage estimates (all employee jobs)

Year Number earning below Voluntary Living Wage (millions)* Percentage of jobs below voluntary Living Wage* Real UK Living Wage (3) Real London Living Wage (£)
2012 4.5 19% 7.20 8.30
2013 4.9 20% 7.45 8.55
2014 5.3 21% 7.65 8.80
2015 5.6 22% 7.85 9.15
2016 5.6 22% 8.25 9.40
2017 5.5 21% 8.45 9.75

* IHS Markit estimates, rounded

For media enquiries, please contact:

Nahidur Rahman, KPMG corporate communications 

T: +44 (0) 20 7694 8812

M: +44 (0)73 9376 0775


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KPMG Press Office:

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Notes to Editors:

About KPMG

KPMG LLP, a UK limited liability partnership, operates from 22 offices across the UK with approximately 13,500 partners and staff.  The UK firm recorded a revenue of £2.07 billion in the year ended 30 September 2016. KPMG is a global network of professional firms providing Audit, Tax, and Advisory services. It operates in 152 countries and has 189,000 professionals working in member firms around the world. The independent member firms of the KPMG network are affiliated with KPMG International Cooperative ("KPMG International"), a Swiss entity.  Each KPMG firm is a legally distinct and separate entity and describes itself as such. 

About the Living Wage Foundation

Only the real Living Wage is calculated according to the basic cost of living in the UK and in London. Employers choose to pay this wage on a voluntary basis. The real Living Wage applies to all workers over 18 – in recognition that young people face the same living costs as everyone else. It enjoys cross party support.  

The UK Living Wage for outside of London is currently £8.45 per hour. The London Living Wage is currently £9.75 per hour. This figure covers all boroughs in Greater London. These figures are calculated annually by the Resolution Foundation and overseen by the Living Wage Commission, based on the best available evidence on living standards in UK and in London.

 The Living Wage Foundation is the institution at the heart of the independent movement of businesses, organisations and people who believe that a fair day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay. We recognise and celebrate the leadership shown by the over 3,500 Living Wage employers across the UK who voluntarily commit to ensure their staff earn a real Living Wage that meets the cost of living. We are an initiative of Citizens UK. 

* What is the real Living Wage?

The real Living Wage is an hourly rate of pay set independently and updated annually (not the UK government’s national living wage). It is calculated according to the basic cost of living in the UK, and employers choose to pay the Living Wage on a voluntary basis. According to the Living Wage Foundation, since 2001 the campaign has impacted over 150,000 employees and redistributed over millions of pounds to some of the lowest paid workers in the UK.

© 2023 KPMG LLP a UK limited liability partnership and a member firm of the KPMG global organisation of independent member firms affiliated with KPMG International Limited, a private English company limited by guarantee. All rights reserved.

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