In-Work Poverty: presentation by Dave Clift, USDAW rep for Cornwall

To obtain further information on speech below, go to

Hello, I would like to start by thanking you for inviting me to speak to today’s event.

My name’s David Clift and I’m a Full-Time Officer for the shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw.

Usdaw is a trade union with over 410,000 members working across a range of low paid industries such as retail, food manufacturing and warehousing.

Over the past 12 months, Usdaw has been running a Time for Better Pay campaign,

This campaign is focused on the issues of low pay, underemployment and job insecurity.


Last year, Usdaw surveyed over 10,500 low paid workers to identify their experiences of the issues caused through in work poverty.

The results of this survey were startling.

  • Over the previous five years, 92% of those surveyed had seen no improvement in their financial situation.
  • Over the previous 12 months, 76% had to rely on unsecured borrowing to pay everyday bills.
  • And 63% of people believe that financial worries were having an impact on their mental health.

There should be no need, in 21st Century Britain, to make the case against in-work poverty.

But there is, a dire need.

Over the past 12 months, Usdaw has been running a Time for Better Pay campaign to highlight and call for measures to tackle in-work poverty.


Low pay and job insecurity are far too common in and around the Cornwall area.

And help show why this is such an important event here today.

From available figures, we know that 42% of all employees in North Cornwall are earning less than the real living wage,

And in south east Cornwall, 39% of workers are earning less than the real living wage.

These figures are far higher than the national average and lead to widespread in-work poverty across Cornwall.


We know all too well that earning below the real living wage has significant negative consequences on people’s ability to reach a decent standard of living.

Over half of the people paid below the real living wage are missing meals, just to pay the essential bills.

And three out of four are struggling to pay for the energy to heat their homes.

Let’s be clear,

When low pay leaves you with a choice between eating and heating,

there is no way these things can be acceptable in modern society.


Usdaw believes that the Government must take urgent action to address in-work poverty,

And ensure all working people can afford a decent standard of living.

Usdaw’s Time for Better Pay campaign has four key goals:

  • A £10 per hour minimum wage for all workers,
  • a right to a contract based on normal working hours,
  • a minimum 16 hour per week contract for those who want it,
  • and an end to zero hours contracts.


The reaction we’ve had to the campaign has shown that it truly resonates with workers in the workplace.

I’m pleased to tell you that the Time for Better Pay Campaign is also making a real impact politically.

Last year, the Government asked the independent Low Pay Commission to undertake a review of flexibility in the workplace,

and to look at whether the current system was fair.

Usdaw submitted the results of our Time for Better Pay survey to this review.

We highlighted the issues caused by insecure employment contracts and excessive flexibility.

Following that evidence, the Low Pay Commission made a very welcome recommendation.

They told the Government, that workers should be given a right to switch to a contract which reflects their normal hours.

This is a recommendation from an independent body to the Government – a recommendation that is clearly rooted in Time for Better Pay.

The Government is yet to act on that recommendation.

But we will keep on pursuing them until they do.


Usdaw is also calling on Government to tackle the mess that is Universal Credit.

Universal Credit has been a failure ever since it was introduced

It entirely unfit for purpose.

It is causing misery for millions of people across the country.

Universal Credit has led to a four-fold increase in the use of foodbanks where it is rolled out.

The National Housing Federation has shown that Universal Credit has caused three times as many people to get behind with their rent.

And more recently, the Work and Pensions Select Committee launched an investigation into reports that Universal Credit is forcing single mums into prostitution.

Universal Credit is failing the most vulnerable members of our society.

This dire situation and the public outcry result in the Government slowing down the rollout of Universal Credit.

Even though the Government seems to accept that there are real problems,

they keep transferring and signing people up to an entirely defective system.

This needs to stop, now.


Universal Credit has been beset by huge problems from day one.

The roll-out should be halted to allow for a fundamental review of Universal Credit.

And tweaks around the edges aren’t enough.

The review needs to seriously consider whether it should be scrapped and replaced with a social security benefit or benefits that consistently supports

workers in low-paid employment,

families struggling to make ends meet and

those unable to work

as well as those unable to find suitable employment.

We need a social security system that is a safety net preventing and reducing poverty.

We need to remove the digital only claiming system which discriminates against those people without the technical skills to complete complex online forms

We need to ensure that people aren’t plunged into poverty by having to wait up to six weeks for their first payment.

And we need to ensure that the system guarantees households enough income to be able to survive.

Unfortunately, the Government has continually failed to tackle these issues

That means that trade unions, community organisations and welfare networks need to work together to highlight the growth of poverty in our society,

And we need to campaign for changes to tackle poverty – in-work and unemployed poverty.


So, I’ve been asked to identify a key policy recommendation that I would like to see the citizens panel endorse.

Well, that is a hard choice:

Maybe, fundamentally review, abolish and replace Universal Credit with a social security system that works for those in poverty?

Possibly, the immediate introduction of a £10 per hour statutory living wage.

On the other hand, we could go for employment law changes that on the surface appear less radical and possibly might be more easily achievable,

Changes such as:

Right to a contract that reflects the normal hours that you work

Or the end to zero-hours contracts

And the right of every worker to a contract of at least 16 hours per week.

So which one would I choose?

Well I think I’ll be cheeky and cheat.

I’ll ask for all these things by saying that I believe that the key policy recommendation I would ask the citizens panel to endorse would be:

To endorse Usdaw’s Time For Better Pay platform as it covers all these points.

So thanks for asking me to speak tonight.

And I hope you will consider and endorse Usdaw’s Time for Better Pay campaign.

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