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‘Still struggling’ with the cost of living – Usdaw’s new survey lays bare the extent of the crisis for key workers

Date: 21 July 2023 Retail trade union Usdaw has today (Friday 21 July) released the latest findings of their cost of living survey of over 6,000 key workers in retail and associated industries. It shows that while wages are failing to keep pace with stubbornly high inflation, the cost of living crisis continues to have a devastating impact on low-paid workers.
The rising cost of every day essentials such as food and clothes are piled on top of the sky-high prices of electricity, gas and transport. Now with interest rates also rising, pushing mortgage payments up and up, the cumulative effect on working people in Britain is taking its toll. In the starkest cost of living survey results yet:
  • a staggering 81.5% of members say they feel worse off now than they did 12 months ago, higher than 77% in 2022 and 39% in 2021.
  • 76% are not able to afford to be take sick leave, 61% identify getting ill as a key concern.
  • 70% say their children are missing out.
‘Still Struggling’ cost of living survey results 2023: www.usdaw.org.uk/CoL2023

Voices from the Frontline: Behind every statistic is a person struggling. These are some of the responses to the Usdaw cost of living survey…
  • “The shame I felt bringing home a leaflet about food banks was unreal. A parent shouldn't have to struggle to clothe their child.” Retail worker, Scotland.
  • “I am stressed and depressed, I can't even afford to be sick because my job does not offer sick pay for the first 3 days.”  Distribution Worker, East of England.
  • “At my age I shouldn’t be worrying about money and bills, it’s frightening. When is everything going to stop going up” Retail Worker, Wales.
  • “We can no longer afford to do anything, even on birthdays. We don’t feel we’re ‘living’ a life. Each day is a struggle.” Retail worker, Southern England.
  • “I feel so guilty letting my child down. We never have anyone round due to living in such poor accommodation.” Retail worker, Midlands.
  • “My kids now ask ‘can I have this, if you can afford it?’ I can't hide money issues from them like I used to.” Warehouse worker, North East England.
  • “I can’t take any more away from my kids. They already suffer and I feel like I’m failing them as I can’t provide properly.” Retail Worker, Northern Ireland.
  • “We didn’t celebrate Christmas because I couldn’t afford the expense. There is nothing much to look forward to.” Retail Worker, North West England.
  • “I’m classed as a key worker, yet what I’m paid barely puts food on the table.” Retail Worker, Midlands.
Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary says: “These real-life testimonies are heart-breaking, yet the Government still tries to convince workers that the cost of living crisis is coming to an end. Usdaw’s latest survey results tell a very different story and it should be a matter of shame for Ministers that over 8 in 10 of our members feel worse off than last year. These are mainly key workers in the retail grocery industry who keep the nation fed, but are struggling to put food on their own table.

“Three-quarters of our members have a real fear of getting ill and many are using holidays to ensure their income still covers the bills. If we learnt nothing else from the pandemic, surely we must now have immediate reform of Statutory Sick Pay rules, so that sick people can take necessary time off work, have enough to live on and part time workers are not left without support.

“Statutory sick pay is paid at a miserly £109.40 per week. For many who work part-time while also caring for children or other family members, the minimum earnings threshold of £123 per week means they are not entitled to any sick pay at all. 84% of our members in receipt of in-work benefits reported that they could not afford to take time off work if they fall ill.

“Labour has already committed, within the first 100 days of coming into government, to increase Statutory Sick Pay and make it available to all workers, including those on low wages who are not eligible under the current rules. This is part of a comprehensive new deal for workers under Labour.

“Disturbingly nearly three-quarters of Usdaw members said that their children are missing out because money is too tight. Children not being able to engage in cultural and social enrichment can be another consequence of poverty. Children in working families are increasingly falling into poverty, with many respondents saying they feel shame at having to cut back on treats. 73% of families said they don’t expect to be able to afford a holiday this year, many have not been on holiday since Covid.

“These findings clearly show that those who are so essential to our economy and did so much to help the country through the pandemic, are at significant risk of being left further behind. Usdaw is calling on the Government to deliver a new deal for workers. The Tories have clearly demonstrated they will not provide the change our members desperately need, it’s time for a change, it’s time for Labour.”

Usdaw’s call for a New Deal for Workers includes:
  • Minimum wage of at least £12 per hour immediately, as a step towards £15 for all workers, ending rip-off youth rates.
  • Minimum contract of 16 hours per week, for everyone who wants it, that reflects normal hours worked and a ban on zero-hour contracts.
  • Better sick pay for all workers, from day one, at average earnings.
  • Protection at work and respect for shopworkers. Abuse is not a part of the job!
  • Proper social security system, Universal Credit does not provide an effective safety net.
  • Job security, with day one employment rights for unfair dismissal and significant improvements to redundancy protections.
  • Fair treatment and equality for all workers, including equal pay.
  • Voice at work, stop rogue employers refusing to engage with trade unions and end ‘fire and rehire’.
Notes for editors:

Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK's fifth biggest trade union with over 350,000 members. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemical industry and other trades www.usdaw.org.uk

Labour’s New Deal for Workers: www.usdaw.org.uk/LaboursNDW

For Usdaw press releases visit: http://www.usdaw.org.uk/news and you can follow us on Twitter @UsdawUnion

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