• By Check-a-Salary
  • Posted Tuesday 21 st April 2020

Key work, low pay: How much do our key workers actually earn?

The number of confirmed cases of Coronavirus in the UK now stands at over 95,000. With this number remaining as high as it is, the government is retaining its stance on social distancing measures. All of this means that, for now at least, the way we live and work will continue to be compromised. It also means that the people of the UK will be even more reliant on the sector of front line key workers to help us get through this difficult period. 

The government’s official list of key workers includes the likes of doctors, nurses, police officers, supermarket staff and many more. Right now, each worker within these designated industries is playing an absolutely vital role in keeping the country running. They are highly-valued members of our society - but is this value being reflected in their salaries? 

Here at Check-a-Salary, we have compiled the salary data of a wide variety of key worker roles from across every area of the country in an effort to see if the people in these essential roles are being paid what they deserve. The average annual salary in the UK is £29,822.20, just how many key workers earn over this? 

The following blog post aims to highlight the average salaries and pay differentials of key workers across a handful of industries up and down the country. Below we have broken down the average wages of six different key workers, with the aim of comparing them across the country as well as with each other. Salaries vary from area to area and from role to role, but what’s become clear from the data we’ve compiled is this: even though UK key workers are highly-valued, they are nonetheless underpaid.

The Average Salaries of UK Doctors and UK Nurses

As we’re living during a pandemic, it only follows that the doctors and nurses of the NHS are some of the most highly recognised workers right now. The doctors and nurses of the NHS are on the receiving end of a lot of national gratitude, and rightly so. Thousands of healthcare workers are on the frontlines every day, helping to keep us safe. But do their salaries reflect this?

Our data suggests that doctors are in fact the highest paid key workers - with the median salary for a UK doctor coming in at around £77,880 per year. On the surface, this is substantially beyond the UK average but when the figures are broken down, you can see the vast difference between the lowest and highest paid doctors in the country. A doctor on the lower end of the pay grade could be earning, on average, just over £22,000 a year. In London, newly-qualified doctors on the lowest pay could be earning £36,551. Whereas Worcestershire appears to have some of the worst paid doctors in England with an average salary of £55,766. 

For UK nursing staff, the average pay is slightly above the national average, coming in at £34,668.68 every year. However, when the data is looked at individually, there is still a substantial difference between areas. Nurses in Argyll and Bute are the worst paid in the UK with an average salary of £28,431.32. A close second is Bedfordshire, where nurses are paid an average of £31,839.30. However, when comparing across the whole of the UK, it’s Scotland that has the lowest average pay for nurses at £33,880 per annum. 

The Average Salaries of UK Delivery Drivers

Since social distancing measures have been introduced, delivery drivers have come to play an even more important role in keeping the country running. With limits to the amount of physical contact people are permitted to have, ordering essentials to be delivered has proved to be one of the most relied upon services. An uptake in orders means delivery drivers are having to work even harder, so it only follows that their salaries reflect this - but does it?

Across the whole of the UK, key worker delivery drivers earn an average salary of £24,408.71 a year (which is below the national average). Breaking it down by region, delivery drivers in Argyll and Bute earn the least out of every area in the United Kingdom, with an annual salary of £20,330.84 - a figure which comes in below the Scottish average. In England alone, Dorset is home to the worst paid delivery drivers with their average wage coming in at £28,431.32 a year. Yet,out of every country in the UK, Northern Ireland appears to pay delivery drivers the least, with an average wage of just £23,082.72.

The Average Salaries of UK Retail Assistant

Supermarket workers are undoubtedly emerging as national heroes. With more people spending time at home, coupled with the uncertainty of this pandemic, the demand for groceries has skyrocketed. It’s the key retail workers in supermarkets around the country who are making sure people are able to buy essentials, but how much are they earning for this?

Our data has revealed that, after tax and national insurance, the average UK retail assistant is earning less that £9/hr. The exact figure comes out at around £8.89/hr and totalling £19,771.26 annually, which is only slightly above the national living wage for over 25s (£8.72/hr). Again, when broken down by region, we can see further disparity between the salaries of these key workers and the national average. In the whole of the UK, East Lothian retail assistants are paid the worst, earning an annual salary of £16,129.54. This aside, it is actually Northern Ireland that appears to have the lowest paid retail workers out of every country in the United Kingdom, with the average pay coming in at just £17,771.36 every year. 

The Average Salaries of UK Prison Officers

Prison officers are often thought about as the unsung key workers. With over half of UK prisons having reported Coronavirus cases, it’s the prison officers who are putting themselves at risk to maintain the safety and security of their facilities. It’s an essential task, but to what extent is this being reflected in their paychecks?

On average, prison officers earn less than the national average. Per year, these key workers across the UK are looking at a salary of around £23,218.41, with the lower strata earning just over £17,000 a year. Regionally speaking, it’s Renfrewshire in Scotland that has the worst paid prison officers, with an average annual salary of just £15,296.71. In fact, out of every country in the UK, it’s Scotland that has the worst paid prison officers overall, with their average annual salary totalling around £19,047.42 per year - far below the national average. 

Our data suggests that prison officers are some of the worst paid key workers out of the 22 industries we have looked into, with the highest average pay (£23,642.94 for officers in England) still falling substantially under the national average salary. 

The Average Salaries of UK Refuse Collectors

Refuse collectors make up an integral part of what is known as the “foundational economy”. In other words, they are an essential part of keeping communities going, and this is especially the case right now. Refuse collectors are key workers during this crisis, but is this being reflected by their earnings?

From the data we have collated, refuse collectors have emerged as the lowest paid key worker in the UK. The average annual salary of a refuse collector operating anywhere in the UK comes in at around £18,874.84, which falls the furthest below the £29,822.20 national salary average. Scotland again emerged as having the lowest paid waste collectors in the nation, with an average pay of £18,725.28 per year. Breaking this down further into regional terms, Shropshire appears to have the lowest paid refuse collectors in the whole of the UK, with an average yearly salary of just £17,026.25. 

Overall Conclusions

We have collated the data of 22 key worker roles across different industries, though we have only chosen to break down six specific roles. Within these six, however, we have managed to highlight the best and worst paid key workers in the whole of the UK. Doctors emerged as the highest paid key worker, though this comes with huge differences between pay grades and regions. On the other end of the spectrum, refuse collectors, even though seen as an integral part of the “foundational economy”, are the worst paid key workers.

Our data has also allowed us to look across regions and countries within the UK. From this we can see that key workers in Northern Ireland are paid the worst out of all four countries that make up the United Kingdom. The differences between regions and pay grades indicate just how many key workers are earning below the average UK salary. But what does this tell us overall? Ultimately, it tells us that essential workers in these key industries simply aren’t being paid enough. 


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