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The Different Disadvantages Affecting the UK's Key Workers
A look at the various disadvantages affecting UK key workers and Mothers' Union's way of saying "thank you"
The current crisis
From the start of the COVID-19 crisis there has been a sense that we are all in this together. There has been a belief that we as UK society will pull together to fend off the virus and reduce the amount of distress and disruption that it may cause.
In the first few months of the pandemic we applauded our heroes, the NHS workers, the care workers, the shop assistants. As time went on we saw just how much effort was being made and how much was being sacrificed by those on the front line.
We recognised those individuals who struggled to work day after day while others stayed at home on furlough or shielding. At the same time, demands were placed on those with children to get used to the new needs of constant childcare and home schooling.
The thing is, that key workers suffer from different dimensions of disadvantage. These often reduce their opportunities for fun and novel experiences that other members of society have. Mothers’ Union recognises these disparities and has set up a scheme to offer key workers and their families a chance to have positive experiences together.
Disadvantages affecting key workers
It is time to take a look at the disadvantages which affect our key workers and make them even more worthy of our praise, support and admiration.
Many key workers operate in what is known as the gig economy. Due to this, they are not eligible for employment protection, do not receive paid holiday and significant numbers do not even make the minimum wage.
A recent survey by theconversation.com found that 28% of key workers are being paid below the living wage (the amount considered enough to pay for basic needs).
This makes their already disadvantaged situation much worse. Low pay and job insecurity often encourage these workers to work even if they are ill. They do this to earn their vital income which clearly puts themselves and others at greater risk.
Many of these are on the front line such as care workers, food producers and delivery drivers. In effect, they are risking their own health for the benefit of those who have assurances of state furlough money. Obviously, the situation here is grossly unfair.
Key workers are typically people in roles which are valued but are receiving less recognition than more financially rewarding careers. The reality is that they often work in roles which are viewed as undesirable such as refuse collectors or warehouse packers. This work is often perceived negatively and this has an effect on those who carry out these roles.
Furthermore, research has also shown that psychological conditions typical to many such less recognized jobs are known to induce elevated stress. This means that a lot of the time key workers are working in higher stress-inducing environments for lower recognition.
As something of an aside, it is somewhat sad that it took a global pandemic to realise that as a society we should give more recognition to the very people who keep the country going.
Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has found that key workers are more likely than other workers to have school-age children. As a result of this, key workers are more likely to have the burden of childcare responsibilities.
42% of key workers have at least one child aged 16 or younger, compared with 39% of other workers according to the IFS. They are also more likely to have younger children, which makes the availability of childcare critical for such workers. 44% of key workers with children are either partnered with another key worker, or have no partner at home.
Virtually all key workers (including 93% of health workers) are either without a partner or have a partner in work, who might not easily be able to look after their children. All of this taken together means key workers are often juggling a number of family responsibilities while attempting to go to work each day.
A way to say "thank you"
As has been shown here key workers are even more deserving of our thanks and support. The time has come to say “thank you” and Mothers’ Union is providing a way of doing this. We are operating a scheme based on our long running Away From It All Programme (AFIA) to provide key workers and their families with experience days and short breaks.
We welcome all key workers to apply to the scheme. We want to provide key workers the space and time to rebuild family connections and togetherness. This is especially the case for families who have been kept apart or who are on low incomes, who would often be unable to have experiences like these.