Learning and Work Institute believes that adults in low pay need better support to progress at work.


Five million UK adults are in low paid work, one million more than the OECD average. This is partly related to low productivity: the average worker produces 20% less per hour than in the US. Low productivity is particularly concentrated in some sectors, such as retail and hospitality, and is driven in part by a relatively weak skills base.

People who start in low paid work have a relatively low chance of progressing to better paid work and careers – three in four people in low paid work ten years ago are still low paid today. Some groups, such as lone parents and people with disabilities, are even less likely to progress.

The UK’s employment system helps people back to work quickly when they lose their jobs, and the learning and skills system supports a range of important learning. However, the employment system is focused primarily on job entry and sustainability, and the skills system primarily on young people and those with fewer qualifications.

This leaves many in low paid work with insufficient support to get on or change careers, a growing challenge in an era of lengthening working lives and ongoing changes in the world of work.

Our Policy Asks

We want:

(Please click on a policy ask for more details)

A Career Advancement Service

Our Policy Solution, No Limits: From Getting By To Getting On, outlined the case for establishing a Career Advancement Service providing people in low paid work a Career Coach and Personal Budget to put together a personalised package of support to build their career and boost their earnings.

Our submission to the DWP consultation on Universal Credit and in-work progression argues that the government’s current approach to supporting in-work claimants is too narrow. We believe that support to progress in work should: improve individuals’ capability to progress; address their barriers to progression; support individuals to then take up opportunities; and address the barriers for employers in offering progression.

Local Solutions

In our Policy Solution for devolution, Local People: Local Growth, we argued that cities and local areas should work with colleges and providers to build a Career Advancement Service using their devolved skills budget to support in-work Universal Credit claimants.

We also think cities and local areas should have a lead role in driving up demand for Advanced Learner Loans and in supporting individuals and employers to translate this learning into higher pay and productivity.

Introduction of an impact measure

We argue that these changes should help to build broader support for people in low paid work, including for claimants of Universal Credit as that is rolled out. In addition, future employment and skills programmes should include a measure of the impact on earnings of customers.

Our work

Ambition London is our flagship programme supporting employers and individuals to meet their skills needs, making use of Advanced Learner Loans to support their learning. Funded by the JP Morgan Chase Foundation, this high profile project will help close the London skills gap.

We are working in partnership with Trust for London and Walcot Foundation to provide evaluation and learning support to their Step-Up programme, which aims to help low-paid workers increase their earnings and progress into better jobs. We working with the West London Alliance to evaluate their Skills Escalator Pilot Programme, which aims to support working people on low incomes into better paid and more stable employment through personalized advice and skills acquisition.This builds on our previous research for Trust for London, exploring the extent of low-paid work in London, the barriers to progression, ‘what works’ in supporting progression and how policy and delivery could be improved in the future.

We are working with Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council and Birmingham City Council to support the development of sustainable STEM progression routes into High Speed Rail jobs, through the High Speed Rail College. We have also advised Leeds City Region on a package of employment and skills initiatives to promote in-work progression among Leeds City Region residents and employers.

Building on our work around Mid Life Career Review, we have developed a new website to promote the use of career reviews as a tool to support access to and progression at work.

Progression and Advancement Network We have created a network of individuals and organisations that are working to help individuals escape low pay and progress in the workplace. If you are involved in activity to support in-work progression, then we would like to hear from you.

Want to know more?

For further information about our work on Low Pay & Progression, please contact

Dr Fiona Aldridge, Assistant Director, Research & Development

Email: fiona.aldridge@learningandwork.org.uk

Twitter: @FionaAldridge