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What Is the Minimum Wage in the UK?

One of the main problems in the UK (and the rest of the world) is the cost of living that grows steadily, while the federal minimum wage remains relatively the same. As there is a drastic difference between the general living expense and the amount some Britons earn per month, the UK continues to face high poverty rates. 

Did you know that in 2021, 20% of all UK households earned less than £299 a week? Regardless of being one of the most developed countries worldwide, the UK is a long way from improving the quality of life of its citizens. 

If you’re eager to learn more information about the minimum wage in the UK, check out a collection of relevant stats I’ve prepared for you:

Top 5 Statistics

  • As of 2022, the national minimum wage for adults over 23 in the UK is £9.5 per hour.
  • Around 7% of all UK workers earned less than the base pay in 2020. 
  • In 2017, the earning potential for 33% of all wholesale and retail jobs in the UK was below the base wage.  
  • In 2019, 11% of workers aged 61 or older earned salaries at or below the NLW in the UK. 
  • Over 400,000 minimum wage earners in the UK were in key worker roles in 2019.

National Minimum Wage Statistics UK

As of 2022, the national minimum wage for adults over 23 in the UK is £9.5 per hour

The minimum wage for workers under the age of 18 is £4.81 per hour, rising to £6.83 for those between the ages of 18 and 20 and £9.18 for those between the ages of 21 and 22.

Apprentices in the UK worked for a base salary of £4.3 per hour in 2021

National minimum wage per hour in the UK by age (2019–2021 comparison):

Apprentice Under 18 18–20 21–24 25 and older
2019 £3.9/h £4.35/h £6.15/h £7.7/h £8.21/h
2020 £4.15/h £4.55/h £6.45/h £8.2/h £8.72/h
2021 £4.3/h £4.62/h £6.56/h £8.36/h £8.91/h

The difference between the UK’s national living (NLW) and national minimum wage (NMW) was 51 pence in 2021. 

The difference between NLW and NMW is expected to grow soon, with a gap of almost £1 emerging by 2023

In 2019, the number of minimum wage workers in the UK had increased by half a million since 2015. The Low Pay Commission estimates two million workers in the UK were paid below or at the minimum wage in 2019.

Roughly 7% of all UK workers’ earnings were at or below the base pay in 2020

The Low Pay Commission estimated that around 2 million workers in the UK, or 7% of the UK’s workforce, were paid at or below the minimum wage in April 2019. By comparison, that number stood at 1.5 million workers in 2015, before the National Living Wage was introduced. 

It is interesting to note that nearly half, or 48% of all the jobs paying below the minimum wage belong in the retail, cleaning & maintenance, and hospitality occupations.

Minimum Wage in the UK — Coverage by Region

In 2021, the percentage of jobs paid below or at the minimum wage varied across the UK’s regions. Namely, the coverage in London was the lowest, as only 4% of all jobs in this city were paid at or below the UK minimum wage.

Out of all jobs in North East England, 8% were the lowest-paid

Here is the percentage of jobs paid at/below the minimum wage in 2021 by region:

Region Percentage of lowest-paid jobs
South East 4%
Scotland  5%
East 5%
South West 6%
West Midlands 7%
North West 7%
Wales 7%
Yorkshire and the Humber 7%
East Midlands 8%
Northern Ireland 9%

Base Salary in the UK — Share of Industry Earning Below the Living Wage (2017)

Did you know that people working in the hotel and restaurant industry are some of the most underpaid workers in the UK? Shockingly, 50% of workers in this industry earned less than the living wage in 2017, followed by those in the admin and support services industry (39%).

The earning potential for 33% of all wholesale and retail jobs in the UK was below the base wage in 2017

According to Statista, workers in the wholesale and retail industries are also some of the most underpaid in the UK, with up to 33% earning below the living wage in April 2017.

During the same year, the finance industry in the UK was most successful, with only 2% of jobs being paid below the living wage

The table below shows the share of industry earning below the living wage in the UK (2017):

Industries in the UK Percentage of workers earning less than minimum wage
Agriculture 31%
Arts and Recreation 30%
Health and Social Work 16%
Manufacturing 13%
Construction 11%
Real Estate 10%
Education 9%
Information and Communications 6%

Minimum Wage Statistics — Underpayment of the National Living Wage (NLW)

In April 2019, around 424,000 Britons earned less than the minimum wage. In other words, 21.5% of people paid at the NLW or NMW rates earned less than they were entitled to, according to the National Minimum Wage Act.

At the same time, around 8% of jobs held by the 25–29 age group were paid at the NLW 

That percentage was higher than for workers belonging to the older age groups. Workers in the 65+ age group were the only exception, with 11% of them paid at or below the NLW. Still, that may be due to the fact that there were fewer employees in the 65+ age group than in the other age groups. 

In 2019, 11% of workers aged 61 or older were paid at or below the NLW in the UK 

In 2019, the Low Pay Commission (LPC) published estimates of the proportion of workers aged 25+ paid at the National Living Wage. The study shows that women aged 25 or older (around 8%) are more likely to hold a minimum wage job in the UK than men (5%). 

Similarly, the standard pay for roughly 15% of all part-time jobs held by Britons aged 25 or older was at the NLW in 2019

Workers over 25 who worked part-time, were employed in the private sector or had more than one job were more likely to be paid at or below the NLW. Interestingly, women belonging to this age group are also far more likely to have a minimum wage job than men.

In 2019, the earning potential for around 4% of all UK jobs was at or below the NLW

Impact of COVID19 on Minimum Wage Workers

Did you know that the minimum wage workers in the UK were less likely to be critical workers than those with higher-paying jobs? Still, they were more likely to work in the sectors most affected by lockdown than the average-earning folks. The same group of people has suffered the most financially during the global pandemic.

Over 400,000 minimum wage earners were in key worker roles in 2019

At the same time, more than 800,000 NMW workers (41% of all minimum wage workers in the UK) worked in the most affected sectors by the pandemic. In contrast, 18% of workers in shutdown sectors earned the minimum wage.  

In 2020, 233,000 or 17% of workers aged 25+ in the UK’s hospitality industry were paid at or below the NLW

The table below shows workers aged 25+ in the UK shut down sectors who are paid at or below the National Living Wage:

Shutdown Sectors Number of Workers  Percentage of Workers in That Sector
Retail 239,000 17%
Leisure 24,000 2%
Social Care 70,000 5%
Childcare 40,000 3%
Transport 62,000 4%
Office Work 48,000 3%

Wrap Up

The purpose of the minimum wage is to create a minimum standard of living and thus protect the interest and well-being of employees. But, as its name says, the minimum wage isn’t nearly enough for a comfortable and fulfilled life. 

Even though it’s possible to make ends meet with the minimum wage, minimum wage workers should get the opportunity to stabilise their finances because they’re the cornerstone of the UK’s economic growth.