This research explored the realities of in-work poverty – and potential solutions – through the eyes of workers in the retail, hospitality and care sectors. All participants were earning less than the Living Wage and were in low-income households, defined according to the Minimum Income Standard (based on what members of the public think is needed for a minimum acceptable standard of living).
While many workers valued the overall flexibility and convenience offered by low-paid work, they often described their day-to-day experience as stressful, characterised by ever-changing targets, feeling understaffed, overstretched and unsupported by senior management. Low-paid, low-income workers had purely functional relationships with their jobs, with very few expectations of their employer and for their own prospects in the company. Symbols of insecurity such as low- or zero-hour contracts and staff turnover tended to further reinforce this. When workers were asked to consider what they would most like to change about their jobs, they invariably focused on pay. This was usually their base rate of pay, but also fairer recognition of their time spent at work, including breaks, time in training and overtime.