A report by the Institute for Employer Studies (IES) shows that employees in low-paid and insecure jobs have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. It states that, during the first lockdown, around two-thirds of low-paid workers received fewer hours or were placed on furlough.

New research conducted by the IES reveals that the pandemic has taken a severe toll on low-paid workers who have been subject to having their hours cut, being placed on furlough more frequently and losing their jobs at a higher rate than workers who earn more.

The findings of the report showed that workers who earned less were twice as likely to be furloughed or have their hours reduced by their employer.

It states that this was driven by higher rates of low pay in ‘shutdown sectors’. Despite this, in all the sectors analysed, low-paid workers were significantly more likely to have been away from work or to have had fewer hours.

By the late summer, three in 10 low-paid employees were not working normally (30 per cent) in comparison to only a fifth of workers who were earning above the real Living wage (20 per cent).

However, there were also various workers that had been interviewed by the IES who stated that furlough was not made an option for them at all. Specifically, part-time, zero hour contract and agency workers reported seeing a significant reduction in their hours or lost their jobs entirely.

When their employers were questioned on why this decision was made, they responded that they did not think the staff were eligible to be placed on furlough or that previous pay records had been lost.

As a result of this research, the IES highlighted various areas that needed to be worked on to support low-paid workers including:

  • Extending ‘flexible furlough’ through to Autumn
  • Extending the Test and Trace Support Payment to cover employees who need to isolate or care for others
  • Reforming and improving Statutory Sick Pay – Increasing this to at least £200 a week & reintroducing a percentage threshold scheme to offset increased costs for small employers
  • Introducing legislation to improve security for low-paid workers
  • Establishing an effective, well resourced single enforcement body for employment rights

Tony Wilson, Director at the IES, said:

This shows the unequal nature of the pandemic. With unemployment set to rise sharply this year, we are likely still in the foothills of the employment crisis, but it has already taken a significant toll on low-paid workers.

We can take action now and at the budget to address this. Looking further ahead, we need to plan for the recovery and ensure that we put full employment and decent work at the heart of it.

*This research was taken from IES’s report ‘Laid low: The impacts of the Covid-19 crisis on low-paid and insecure workers’. The phrase ‘low-paid’ was defined as employees whose hourly earnings are less than the Real Living Wage (£10.85 in London or £9.50 in other parts of the UK).





Monica Sharma is an English Literature graduate from the University of Warwick. As Editor for HRreview, her particular interests in HR include issues concerning diversity, employment law and wellbeing in the workplace. Alongside this, she has written for student publications in both England and Canada. Monica has also presented her academic work concerning the relationship between legal systems, sexual harassment and racism at a university conference at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.