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Quarter of workers in Northern Ireland earn less than 'real living wage'

Employees earning less than the benchmark real living wage include those who have been deemed critical to the fight against the coronavirus crisis

One in four employees in Northern Ireland earn below the so-called real living wage compared to one in five in Britain.

The real living wage (RLW) is calculated by the charity the Living Wage Foundation and the employees earning less than the benchmark include those who have been deemed critical in the fight against the coronavirus crisis.

They include hospital cleaners and porters, teaching assistants and carers.

RLW is calculated independently from the British government and is based on costs such as food, clothing and household bills.

The Living Wage Foundation rates are currently £10.75 an hour for those working within London and £9.30 an hour for everyone else in Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales. 

The scheme is separate to the statutory National Living Wage, which is the legally-binding hourly rate for workers aged 25 and over. The government raised the National Living Wage to £8.72 an hour from April 1.

The GMB union said the coronavirus crisis had shone a light on the “rock-bottom pay” of the people “expected to risk their health to protect us”. It says more than three million workers in the UK could be affected and called for key workers’ wages to be raised.

Economists have, however, urged against further wage rises before the full toll of the crisis is clear.

 The Low Pay Commission, an independent body which advises the government, warned it might be necessary to apply an "emergency brake" on long-term plans to continue to lift the statutory minimum. 

While 25.1% of employees in Northern Ireland earned less than the real living wage in 2019, the figure stands at 16.9% in Scotland and 22.6% in Wales. The only part of Britain where the rate is higher than Northern Ireland is Outer London where it stands at 29.8%.

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