New survey reveals stresses of life on low pay in Highlands & Islands

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Hard-up workers in the Highlands & Islands are struggling to put food on the table, according to the results of a survey released today by The Poverty Alliance.

Around a third (29%) of people polled admitted to regularly skipping meals to save money.

Many are also falling behind on bills, rent and mortgage payments, topping up their incomes with credit cards and loans, and borrowing to get by.

Among the Highlands & Islands poll sample, more than a quarter (26%) had fallen behind with household bills in the last year, 29% had topped up their income with a credit card or loan, around one in six (17%) had fallen behind with their rent or mortgage payments, and 49% said financial stress was affecting their working life.

The startling new figures released today reveal that hardship is real among low earning Scots, with many eager to build up savings or just have a day or night out.

The survey showed that 46% of those earning less than £14,000 are so stressed about their finances that it is negatively affecting their work life.

More than a third (37%) had fallen behind with household bills in the last year, 34% were regularly skipping meals, 28% had topped up their income with a credit card or loan, and more than one in five (22%) had fallen behind with their rent or mortgage payments.

The survey of 1,024 adults by Survation included people of all income brackets ranging from 18 to 64 years old.

Three quarters of respondents said more employers paying a real Living Wage of £8.45 an hour would raise Scots’ living standards.

In addition, eight out of 10 said being paid a real Living Wage would make them feel more valued at work, 74% said they would be more committed to a job, and 66% said they would be more productive at work.

Peter Kelly, director of The Poverty Alliance - which promotes the real Living Wage in Scotland - said: “Our research paints a worrying picture of low earners scraping by, struggling to pay basic bills, skipping meals and feeling a lot of stress. In 2017, in a country like Scotland, that should not be the case.

“We know from other surveys that increasing pay levels from the national minimum wage to a real Living Wage- a pay rise of up to £2000 a year for full-time workers - brings huge benefits to employees and employers, in terms of increased retention and better staff morale.

“The real Living Wage of £8.45 an hour has the backing of three in four Scots in the survey, and it has cross-party support in Scotland.

“Our survey also found that more than a third of people felt a real Living Wage could tackle child poverty, and the vast majority felt it made for happier, more productive employees.”

Asked how they would spend the extra money if their employer started to pay them the real Living Wage, 44% of low earners, under £14,000, said they would save it and four out of ten would use it to pay off debts and 24% said they’d take part in more social activities.

Although awareness of the real Living Wage was high among consumers, there is still work to be done, said Kelly.

He added: “Since we started the Living Wage accreditation programme in Scotland three years ago, we have signed up more than 780 employers.

“In Scotland, we’ve had the fastest take-up of any region in the U.K. It’s a voluntary programme and a simple process which we would urge employers of all size to consider.

“There is a long way to go to address in-work poverty for the estimated 467,000 low-paid people in our country . As this research shows, putting just a little bit more in people’s pockets could have positive impacts both socially and economically.”

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