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.
CAROLINE LLOYD is a senior research fellow at the Economic and Social Research Council Centre on Skills, Knowledge, and Organizational Performance.
GEOFF MASON is senior research fellow at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, London.
KEN MAYHEW is fellow in economics at Pembroke College, Oxford.
CONTRIBUTORS: Marilyn Carroll, Johanna Commander, Eli Dutton, Damian Grimshaw, Susan James, Dennis Nickson, Matthew Osborne, Jonathan Payne, Robert Solow, Philip Stevens , Chris Warhurst.
A Volume in the RSF Case Studies of Job Quality in Advanced Economies