Why supermarket workers need a real Living Wage

The pandemic made clear like never before just how important supermarket workers are to our everyday lives. They kept the shelves stocked with food and other essentials, risking their own health in the process. For their part, supermarkets did very well out of the pandemic, with strong sales growth and profits continuing beyond the end of lockdowns. 

Despite bumper profits and a realisation that supermarket workers play a key role in keeping us all going, the sector is still plagued by low pay. 42% of all supermarket workers in the UK – or 366,000 in total – earn below the real Living Wage. In other words, they earn below the minimum required to achieve an acceptable standard of living. That is high compared to the wider wholesale and retail sector, where 29% of employees earn below the real Living Wage, and across all sectors as a whole, where the figure is 17.1%.

Low pay in the supermarket sector doesn’t impact all workers equally. Some are affected more than others:

  • 49% of female supermarket workers earn below the real Living Wage compared to 35% of male workers.
  • 44% of BAME workers earn below the real Living Wage compared to 41% of white workers.
  • 55% of part-time workers earn below the real Living Wage compared to 28% of full-time workers. 
  • 50% of disabled workers earn below the real Living Wage compared to 41% of those without a disability. 

These figures are borne out by more direct indicators of the impacts of low pay. The Independent Food Aid Network reports that it has seen an increase in the number supermarket workers using their food banks during the pandemic and Organise found that one in three Sainsbury’s workers regularly worried about putting food on the table. 

Now, supermarket workers are finding it even harder to keep their heads above water due to the rising tide of high living costs. It is a cruel irony that increasingly they can’t afford the food they handle. Supermarkets can do the right thing and provide a lifeline to all their workers in these hard times by paying a real Living Wage. 

Some supermarkets - Aldi, Lidl, M&S and Sainsbury’s - are taking steps in the right direction and paying their workers the same or above the real Living Wage, but no major UK supermarket is yet to accredit as a Living Wage employer. By accrediting, employers ensure that all supermarket workers, whether they are directly employed shop floor staff or subcontracted cleaners and security staff, are paid a wage that is enough to live on and, importantly in the present moment, is pegged to the yearly increase in the cost of living. Real Living Wage rates also account for the higher cost of living in London compared to the rest of the UK. 

Becoming accredited makes good business sense too. 86% of real Living Wage employers told us it has improved the reputation of the business since they became accredited. 75% say it increased motivation and retention rates for employees. 64% said it helped differentiate themselves from others in their industry. 58% say it improved relations between managers and their staff. 

Retail giant IKEA said this about becoming an accredited Living Wage employer:

“Introducing the Living Wage is not only the right thing to do for our co-workers; It also makes good business sense. This is a long-term investment in our people based on our values and our belief that a team with good compensation and working conditions is in a position to provide a great experience to our customers.”

To find out how to join the growing movement of over 10,000 employers who think a hard day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay, click here.