Employers are being encouraged to help low-earning staff after a new report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) revealed that 5.7 million households are having to reduce meals or skip them altogether.
JRF’s latest cost-of-living tracker found that these low-income families do not have enough money for groceries, and of these, nearly two-thirds (63%) cannot afford food, heating and basic toiletries. This is the case for around seven million households and has been at that number for more than one year.
Rachelle Earwaker, senior economist at JRF, described the levels of hardship as a “horrendous new normal” which is “placing a huge burden on families”.
Commenting on the findings, senior policy adviser for performance and reward at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, Charles Cotton, said: “Today’s inflation figures find the cost of groceries has jumped by 18.4% over the year to May 2023, so it’s not surprising that so many people are now skipping meals, eating less, and having to consume less healthy food, according to Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
“For employers wanting to support their employees to cope with spiralling food costs, options include: providing free or subsidised meals and drinks; offering workplace cooking facilities; installing workplace fridges for people to store a packed lunch; providing healthy snacks; arranging discounts with local eateries; and providing discounts and deals with food retailers. Often, because of economies of scale, employers can spend less money doing this then it costs their employees to do it themselves.”
Trades Union Congress general secretary Paul Nowak believes the most important thing employers can do is to recognise unions and negotiate pay rises that help staff keep up with the cost of living.
He added: “We’d also like to see many more employers signing up to the real living wage. This benefits employers too by reducing turnover and the cost of recruitment.
“As well as decent rates of pay, staff need security and certainty in their working hours, so that they can plan their household finances. It’s a big help if employers work with staff and unions to agree working hours and rotas, along with plenty of notice for their hours and shift patterns.
“It’s not all on employers though. Ministers should help by raising the minimum wage faster and improving support for working families through universal credit.”