respondents may not have been eligible for Working Tax Credits if their Leave to Remain is subject to the condition that they must not have recourse to public funds. Claimants must also prove that they are ‘habitually resident’ and ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK.4 The very low uptake of benefits is in clear contrast to the popular discourse that presents London's migrants as 'benefit scroungers'.
Despite formalised working relations, and paying tax and National Insurance, workers endured very poor working conditions and enjoyed few work-related benefits. For example, three-fifths of workers received no maternity or paternity leave from their employers, half had no annual pay rise and a third had never had a pay rise. Half of all workers lost pay if taking time off for emergencies, and just over half (52%) did not receive sick pay. As many as 67% of respondents received only the statutory minimum number, or fewer, of paid holiday days (20 days including bank holidays). Over two thirds (70%) did not have access to a company pension scheme.
Unsociable hours were also a key aspect of the respondents working arrangements. Over half of the respondents (55%) worked unsociable hours, with 28% employed on an early shift, 16% working in the evenings, and 12% the night shift.
Although people worked an average of 36 hours a week, about two-fifths of respondents worked overtime. Of these, most worked up to an additional 8 hours a week, but nearly one third worked up to a maximum of 16 hours overtime. Importantly, however, only a minority of these workers (just over one-quarter) received a higher rate of pay for this overtime; and of these, one-half received between £5 and £7 per hour.
The research also found very high rates of labour turnover amongst workers doing these low paid jobs. About 60% of our sample had been working for their employer for less than 2 years, and most of these had been in their current job for less than a year (89%). However, over one-fifth of workers were also found to have been working for their current employers for between two and five years and a smaller number had worked for the same company for more than 5 years, indicating a degree of stability in this work. Moreover, this was particularly true for the care sector which also tended to have better pay and conditions, and less worker dissatisfaction, than other fields of employment (see Section 3). While this requires further research, it would suggest that turnover rates fall as wages and conditions improve. This will accrue cost savings to employers in recruitment and training expenses (see also Brown et al., 2001).
Despite such poor pay and conditions, the research showed little evidence of traditional, work place collective organisation. Even though a number of respondents were contacted via trade union representatives (leading to a likely inflation in the proportion of respondents reporting union membership) less than one quarter of respondents were members of a trade union (22%). By way of contrast, two-fifths claimed they were active in faith-based organisations of various denominations (such as Christian, Muslim, and Hindu).
4 ‘Ordinarily resident’ means a person is here voluntarily and intends to settle. This is based on factors such as whether they intend to stay in the UK for the next 3 years, whether they have children in the UK, and how long they have lived in the UK. The habitual residence test is a complicated investigation that looks into where the normal place of living is considered to be.