The proportion of employees in low-paid jobs is at a record low, official figures have revealed, and median weekly pay has increased.
According to the Office for National Statistics’ Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) only 14.2% of employee jobs in 2021 were considered low paid, based on hourly rates, and 25.5% were considered low paid based on gross weekly earnings.
Both proportions are the lowest since the ONS began recording earnings this way in 1997.
Low pay is defined as pay that is less than two-thirds of median hourly pay.
However, as with its gender pay gap data, the ONS warned that interpreting average earnings is difficult at the moment, because furlough may have affected average earnings and the pandemic could have affected data collection.
Full-time employees saw a significant increase in their weekly pay, compared with 2020 levels. Median weekly pay for full time employees was £611 in April 2021, up 4.3% on a year earlier.
This rate of growth was the highest since 2008, but the ONS said that furlough and pandemic effects had to be taken into consideration.
Construction sector employees saw the greatest rebound in full-time gross weekly earnings. In 2019-20 their pay dipped 10.4%, but in 2020-21 it grew 16.8%.
Weekly earnings for full-time manufacturing workers grew 8.3% between April 2020 and April 2021, while those in the wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles sector saw pay increase by 7.6%.
However, the TUC pointed out that the real value of median pay has not increased in 12 years, compared with an increase of 24% in the prior 12-year period.
General secretary Frances O’Grady said the Chancellor needed to establish a “proper plan” to increase pay across the economy. Increases to the national minimum and national living wage rates from April 2022 have already been announced.
“That means a pay rise for all public sector workers that at least matches the cost of living. If Rishi Sunak does not increase department budgets the pay freeze will be over in name only,” she said.
“And ministers should strengthen rights for workers to bargain for higher pay through their unions, and immediately increase the NMW to £10 an hour.”
The ASHE data shows that pay increased for most workers in 2021, but particularly those that were most affected by the pandemic, including younger employees, men and the lowest-paid occupations. The proportion of employees furloughed with reduced pay fell from 12% in 2020 to 6% in 2021.
The proportion of employees who were low-paid were highest for elementary occupations (44.7%), those working in the accommodation and food service industry (63.3%), young workers aged 16 to 21 years (58.8%) or those working in Northern Ireland and East Midlands (19.2% and 17.7%).
Similarly, women were more likely to be low paid than men (17.1% versus 11.3%) and part-time employees were more likely than full-time employees (29.1% versus 8.5%).
The proportion of employees who were high-paid was highest for managerial and professional occupations (49.6% and 54.4%), those working in information and communication industry or the finance and insurance industry (46.8% and 49.6%), workers aged between 35 and 49 years (32.8%) or those working in London (41.9%).
Men were more likely to be high-paid than women (29.0% versus 20.0%) and full-time employees were more likely to be high-paid than part-time employees (28.7% versus 13.5%).
Some 3.8% of employee jobs were paid below the national minimum wage or national living wage when the data was collected in April 2021, compared with 7.4% in 2020 – when more employees were on furlough – and 1.4% in 2019.