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Low-Wage Work in the United Kingdom

Low-Wage Work in the United Kingdom

Caroline Lloyd
Geoff Mason
Ken Mayhew
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    Low-Wage Work in the United Kingdom
    Book Description:

    The United Kingdom's labor market policies place it in a kind of institutional middle ground between the United States and continental Europe. Low pay grew sharply between the late 1970s and the mid-1990s, in large part due to the decline of unions and collective bargaining and the removal of protections for the low paid. The changes instituted by Tony Blair's New Labour government since 1997, including the introduction of the National Minimum Wage, halted the growth in low pay but have not reversed it. Low-Wage Work in the United Kingdom explains why the current level of low-paying work remains one of the highest in Europe. The authors argue that the failure to deal with low pay reflects a policy approach which stressed reducing poverty, but also centers on the importance of moving people off benefits and into work, even at low wages. The U.K. government has introduced a version of the U.S. welfare to work policies and continues to stress the importance of a highly flexible and competitive labor market. A central policy theme has been that education and training can empower people to both enter work and to move into better paying jobs. The case study research reveals the endemic nature of low paid work and the difficulties workers face in escaping from the bottom end of the jobs ladder. However, compared to the United States, low paid workers in the United Kingdom do benefit from in-work social security benefits, targeted predominately at those with children, and entitlements to non-pay benefits such as annual leave, maternity and sick pay, and crucially, access to state-funded health care. Low-Wage Work in the United Kingdom skillfully illustrates the way that the interactions between government policies, labor market institutions, and the economy have ensured that low pay remains a persistent problem within the United Kingdom.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-364-7
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. About the Authors
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. INTRODUCTION The United Kingdom Story
    (pp. 1-14)
    Robert Solow

    By any reasonable standard definition of “low-wage work,” about a quarter of American wage earners are low-wage workers. The corresponding figure is smaller, sometimes much smaller, in other comparable advanced capitalist countries. This fact is not very good for the self-image of Americans. It does not seem to be what is meant by “crown(ing) thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.” The paradox, if that is the right word, is the starting point for the extensive study of which this book is an important part. What are the comparative facts, what do they mean, and why do they...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Low-Paid Work in the United Kingdom: An Overview
    (pp. 15-40)
    Geoff Mason, Ken Mayhew and Matthew Osborne

    During the nineteen years of Conservative government (1979 to 1997), the United Kingdom experienced rising levels of income disparities and poverty and a growing proportion of low-paid workers. With an economic approach that shunned labor market regulations and trade unions, Britain appeared to be shifting further away from the “European social model” and toward the more free market approach of the United States. With the election of the New Labour government in 1997, the reduction of the extremely high levels of household poverty (especially child poverty) was given a priority, alongside the provision of a floor to pay rates at...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Low Pay, Labor Market Institutions, and Job Quality in the United Kingdom
    (pp. 41-95)
    Geoff Mason, Ken Mayhew, Matthew Osborne and Philip Stevens

    In chapter 1, we identified a high proportion of low-wage workers in the United Kingdom as compared to other European countries. In this chapter, we explore the reasons why this high incidence of low pay has persisted despite the introduction of a national minimum wage (NMW) in 1999. In particular, we investigate the number, composition, and nature of low-paid jobs in the United Kingdom’s economy and outline the economic and institutional context in which employers are operating and in which the wages and working conditions of low-paid jobs have evolved.

    In the next section, we investigate the extent to which...

  7. CHAPTER 3 “Just Like the Elves in Harry Potter”: Room Attendants in United Kingdom Hotels
    (pp. 96-130)
    Eli Dutton, Chris Warhurst, Caroline Lloyd, Susan James, Johanna Commander and Dennis Nickson

    As part of the hospitality sector, the hotel industry is a significant contributor to the United Kingdom’s economy. Although estimates are difficult because of a lack of definitive statistics, the hotel industry’s annual turnover was as high as £27 billion (US$52.5 billion) in 2006, according to the British Hospitality Association (Caterer and Hotelkeeper2006). The industry is diverse, including bed-and-breakfast establishments, budget, midrange, and luxury hotels. Because of volatile markets and intense competition over recent years, it has undergone significant change, with ownership internationalizing, companies restructuring, and market segmentation deepening. Significantly, mergers and acquisitions have created an industry increasingly shaped...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Business Strategies, Work Organization, and Low Pay in United Kingdom Retailing
    (pp. 131-167)
    Geoff Mason and Matthew Osborne

    In 2005 the retail sector in the United Kingdom employed about 3 million workers, representing around 11 percent of all workers in the economy. As many as 49 percent of retail employees were low-paid, by the definition established in chapter 1, and thus the retail industry accounted for a sizable proportion (26 percent) of all low-paid workers in the United Kingdom. This proportion far outweighed other sectors employing large shares of low-paid workers, such as health services and hotels, which employed 13 percent and 12 percent, respectively, of all low-paid workers in Britain.¹

    Retail workers in the United Kingdom are...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Improving the Position of Low-Wage Workers Through New Coordinating Institutions: The Case of Public Hospitals
    (pp. 168-210)
    Damian Grimshaw and Marilyn Carroll

    This chapter explores the characteristics of low-wage work in the United Kingdom’s public hospital sector (the National Health Service), which is the United Kingdom’s largest employer, with a workforce of some 1.3 million. We focus on two target occupations, assistant nurses and cleaners. One in five assistant nurses and three in five cleaners are estimated to be paid below the low pay threshold. The quality of jobs for these workers is necessarily shaped by the changing financial and labor market pressures faced by hospital managers, much like the other private sector occupations addressed in this book. However, unlike the other...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Supply Chain Pressures and Migrant Workers: Deteriorating Job Quality in the United Kingdom Food-Processing Industry
    (pp. 211-246)
    Susan James and Caroline Lloyd

    The food-processing industry is one of the largest manufacturing sectors in the United Kingdom, employing approximately 413,000 workers, representing just under 13 percent of manufacturing employment (ABI 2006). Despite its size and importance, it is in slow decline as consumer expenditure on food stagnates, prices are squeezed, and imports grow. Large supermarket chains increasingly dominate the sale of food products and exert considerable power over large parts of the processing sector. The changing patterns of consumer demand, intensified pressure from retailers, an oversupply in some sectors, and increased levels of regulation, particularly in relation to food hygiene, have led some...

  11. CHAPTER 7 “It’s Just the Nature of the Job at the End of the Day”: Pay and Job Quality in United Kingdom Mass-Market Call Centers
    (pp. 247-283)
    Caroline Lloyd, Geoff Mason, Matthew Osborne and Jonathan Payne

    After rapidly expanding in the 1980s and 1990s, call centers now figure prominently in most national economies, employing 1 to 3 percent of the working population in the European Union, the United States, and Australia (Holman 2005, 111). The United Kingdom has been described as the “the call centre capital of Europe” (Poynter 2000, 151), with employment representing just under 3 percent of the workforce (Key Note 2006). The development of the call center industry is partly a reflection of the large cost savings to be obtained from the concentration of selling and customer service functions in dedicated locations.


  12. CHAPTER 8 Low-Wage Work in the United Kingdom: Employment Practices, Institutional Effects, and Policy Responses
    (pp. 284-326)
    Damian Grimshaw, Caroline Lloyd and Chris Warhurst

    Prompted by a previous study in the United States, and as part of a wider European study also looking at Germany, Denmark, France, and the Netherlands, the research presented in this volume has explored low-wage work in the United Kingdom. For all but a few of the thirty-seven organizations included in the five-industry United Kingdom study, the targeted occupations were low-wage, and in almost all cases they were more likely to be so than in the other European countries. These case studies highlight many of the issues that prevail in the British economy, where more than one in five employees...

  13. Index
    (pp. 327-340)