One in four retail workers missing meals to pay bills, Usdaw survey reveals

Katie Neame
© Just Another Photographer/

Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis has accused ministers of offering “only sticking plasters” in response to the cost-of-living crisis after a survey by the union revealed that a quarter of retail workers are missing meals each month to pay their bills.

The research, published today, found that one in four respondents are missing meals every month to be able to pay their bills – up from one in 20 last year. The survey of more than 5,500 retail staff revealed that petrol prices and travel costs are impacting the ability of nearly 50% of respondents to get to work.

Seven in ten of those surveyed said they have relied on insecure borrowing to cover household costs, with 60% of that group reporting they have subsequently struggled with repayments.

One survey respondent told Usdaw: “I live alone and have no family to rely on, so feel really desperate, I have nobody to turn to for help.” Another said: “Too many threatening letters, I can’t cope anymore, there is nothing left to pay them.”

Another retail worker explained: “I have two jobs, as one wouldn’t pay the bills. I work 7 days a week at the moment, I’ve got a stretch of 84 days before my next day off. It’s heart-breaking.” A fourth respondent said: “Can’t afford to live. I’m a single parent off sick with breast cancer.”

Lillis declared that the survey “lays bare the struggle low-paid workers are experiencing just to make ends meet”.

He said: “Many respondents talked of how increased fuel prices were leading them to cut down on shifts, to ask for a transfer to a store closer to home or even to consider leaving work altogether.

“Worryingly, cutting down on food and skipping meals was also a common theme, as well as taking steps to reduce non-work related travel to save on fuel costs, such as visiting family or pursuing leisure activities.

“These are the very real experiences of essential workers who were clapped during the pandemic and now seem to be forgotten.

“The government has offered only sticking plasters that go nowhere near covering rising prices and bills, so there needs to be significant increases in minimum wage rates and fundamental reforms to end insecure work.”

Usdaw is calling for a new deal for workers, including a minimum wage of at least £12 per hour as a step towards £15 per hour for all workers, a minimum contract of 16 hours per week for everyone who wants it and a ban on zero-hour contracts.

Lillis said: “The pandemic clearly demonstrated just how reliant the country is on the lowest paid workers, so if we are to truly ‘build back better’ surely these essential workers deserve the dignity of decent pay.”

The union is also demanding better sick pay for all workers from day one, a “proper” social security system, as Universal Credit does not provide an “effective safety net” and increased job security, including day-one employment rights for unfair dismissal and “significant” improvements to redundancy protections.

Usdaw has highlighted the need for greater protection at work and respect for shopworkers and for workers to have a voice at work, including cracking down on employers who refuse to engage with trade unions and banning ‘fire and rehire’.

The union will be campaigning this weekend at street stalls across the country, demanding that the government take action to address the cost-of-living crisis.

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