Britains lowest-paid workers, women and young adults have jobs with the biggest health and economic risks during the coronavirus lockdown, according to a report into the uneven impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
More than a month into the UKs lockdown, the Resolution Foundation thinktank said jobs in shutdown parts of the economy were lower paid than average, with as many as one in four of the lowest earners in society working in sectors forced into temporary closure, compared with less than one in 20 of the highest paid.
As the government comes under rising pressure to outline an exit strategy from lockdown conditions, the thinktanks report said the health risks from Covid-19 and the economic fallout would be far greater for some than others.
Identifying 8.6 million key workers putting their health at risk to keep the country running, the study found women were more than twice as likely than men to occupy these roles. Dominated by almost 4 million health workers, as well as education, food and pharmaceutical retail staff, parents are also more likely to be key workers, including as many as two in five working mothers.
The thinktank said key workers, such as nurses, teachers and care workers, typically earn less than employees further away from the centre of the crisis, with the bottom 30% of earners in Britain more than twice as likely to be in such jobs than the top 10%.
As well as health risks facing women and low-income workers in sectors where staff are still going into work, the Resolution Foundation identified 6.3 million people in areas of the economy that have been ordered to shut down, including in hospitality, retail, arts, travel and leisure.
It said jobs in sectors that have been effectively forced to close were typically lower paid than average, putting workers in these areas at greater risk of financial hardship as redundancies mount.
One in four of the lowest 10% of all UK earners work in sectors where activity has ground to a halt amid tight restrictions on social and business life across Britain, compared with less than one in 20 of the highest paid.
Young people are particularly likely to work in mothballed sectors, given the higher numbers of young adults in hospitality or retail, where their employers have been forced to close.
As the generation to experience the toughest squeeze on pay following the 2008 financial crisis, the report warned that almost a quarter of millennials – born between 1981 and 2000 – currently work in shuttered sectors, compared with 16% of working baby boomers and other older adults born before them.
Research around the world has shown that the impact of the pandemic will be unevenly felt by different groups in society. According to analysis of the first few weeks of unemployment benefit claims in Norway seen by the Guardian, the Norwegian labour ministry found workers with low wages, low education, and limited economic resources were overrepresented among the first to lose their jobs.
In Britain about 1.8 million people have so far signed up to claim universal credit, with unemployment spiralling as the economy heads into the deepest recession since at least the second world war. Although the government is providing billions of pounds of emergency financial support to companies and individuals, millions are still expected to fall through the safety net.
Maja Gustafsson, a researcher at the Resolution Foundation, said that as the government started to consider lifting lockdown conditions, it was vital that it focused on supporting those who have been at the centre of the current crisis.
“Women, young people and the low-paid are most likely to be bearing the biggest health and economic risks from the crisis, which has shone a spotlight on the vitality of work that has been undervalued and underpaid for far too long,” she added.