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Low-Wage Work in the United Kingdom

Caroline LLoyd, Geoff Mason, Ken Mayhew

Publication Year: 2008

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.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Series: Russell Sage Foundation Case Studies of Job Quality in Advanced Economies

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

About the Authors

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pp. vii-viii

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Introduction: The United Kingdom Story

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pp. 1-14

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...

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1. Low-Paid Work in the United Kingdom: An Overview

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pp. 15-40

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...

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2. Low Pay, Labor Market Institutions, and Job Quality in the United Kingdom

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pp. 41-95

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...

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3. “Just Like the Elves in Harry Potter”: Room Attendants in United Kingdom Hotels

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pp. 96-130

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...

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4. Business Strategies, Work Organization, and Low Pay in United Kingdom Retailing

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pp. 131-167

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...

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5. Improving the Position of Low-Wage Workers Through New Coordinating Institutions: The Case of Public Hospitals

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pp. 168-210

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...

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6. Supply Chain Pressures and Migrant Workers: Deteriorating Job Quality in the United Kingdom Food-Processing Industry

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pp. 211-246

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...

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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

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pp. 247-283

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...

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8. Low-Wage Work in the United Kingdom: Employment Practices, Institutional Effects, and Policy Responses

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pp. 284-326

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...


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pp. 327-340

E-ISBN-13: 9781610443647
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871545633

Page Count: 348
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: Russell Sage Foundation Case Studies of Job Quality in Advanced Economies
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OCLC Number: 835513991
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Low-Wage Work in the United Kingdom

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Minimum wage -- Great Britain.
  • Wages -- Great Britain.
  • Unskilled labor -- Great Britain.
  • Labor market -- Great Britain.
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