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Britain's Waitstaff and Bar Workers Aren't Being Paid a Living Wage

According to a new report, 6 million British workers are earning less than the Living Wage of £7.85, with bar staff, waiters, and waitresses topping the list of professions not paid this voluntary rate.
Phoebe Hurst
London, GB
Photo via Flickr user Dolapo Falola

Working in hospitality is tough af. When you think about the late nights, the temperamental customers, and the physical demands of running between back and front-of-house all day, it's probably true that the guy who took your brunch order is more stressed than the average neurosurgeon.

What's worse is the fact that many bartenders, waiters, and waitresses are underpaid. Forty percent of waitstaff in the US live twice below the poverty line and New York only just approved a $15 minimum wage for fast-food workers. In the UK, unregulated tipping policies see some waitstaff forced to "pay to work" their shifts.


A new report has now compiled further evidence of just how badly Britain's hospitality workers are being paid.

READ MORE: Scientists Say It's More Stressful to Be a Waiter Than a Neurosurgeon

Published on Sunday by accountancy firm KPMG, the research found that 6 million workers in Britain earn less than the Living Wage, a voluntary minimum level of pay that currently stands at £9.15 per hour in London and £7.85 across the rest of the UK.

This makes up 23 percent of British workers, a figure that has risen from 22 percent last year and 21 percent in 2013.

Using data from the Office for National Statistics' Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, KPMG researchers estimated the national, regional, and job sector distribution of hourly earnings below the Living Wage. A survey of 1,500 respondents across the UK was also used to find the financial conditions of those either side of the Living Wage threshold.

From this, researchers were able to compile a top 10 list of jobs that pay less than Living Wage in Britain.

The results? Bar work topped the list, with 90 percent of staff not paid enough to reach an "acceptable standard of living." This was followed by waiters and waitresses at 85 percent, then kitchen and catering assistants at 80 percent.

Young people, those in part-time roles, and women were shown to be the worst affected by low pay, with 29 percent of women earning less than the Living Wage, compared to 18 percent of men.


In a statement, KPMG head of Living Wage Mike Kelly said: "The figures show there is still more to be done if we are to eradicate in-work poverty. For some time it was easy for businesses to hide behind the argument that increased wages hit their bottom line, but there is ample evidence to suggest the opposite, in the shape of higher retention and higher productivity."

Following the report, it was announced today that the Living Wage, which is promoted by the Living Wage Foundation, will rise by 40p an hour and the UK and 25p in London. While the rate is voluntary, more than 2,000 businesses and almost 70,000 workers are signed up to the scheme.

READ MORE: Restaurant Workers in the US Are Flat Broke

However the increase has not been welcomed by some areas of the hospitality industry. As The Publican's Morning Advertiser reports, Tim Dewey of pub company Timothy Taylor said that he supported higher wages but that their impact on businesses must also be taken into account.

"We've been working through the numbers here and it is quite a significant impact. People tend to focus on the rise in the minimum wage but if you've got somebody with extra responsibilities who is on a slightly higher wage than the minimum, they will want their wages to go up too," he said.

Despite this, other national pub companies including BrewDog and Faucet Inns are currently paying staff higher wages. With increased attention on the issue of Living Wage, the pressure is mounting for other restaurants and bars to follow suit.