Almost one in four employees in Preston are earning less than the living wage, according to figures released today.
The TUC said 23 per cent of all employees in the city earned less than £7.65 an hour, as statistics were revealed for areas across the region.
Research showed that in some parts of Lancashire, almost 40 per cent of jobs paid less than the living wage, and council bosses said more needed to be done to tackle the problem.
Coun Matthew Brown, cabinet member for community engagement and inclusion, said since Preston Council became a living wage employer they had worked to make sure it was spread across the city.
He said: “A lot of taxpayers’ money is being spent subsidising employers who pay low wages. If they paid the living wage, people would claim less in housing benefit and council tax benefit, because it wouldn’t have to be subsidised quite as heavily.
“We need a new way of thinking - in other countries across the world like Australia and France, the minimum wage is set higher than ours.”
Coun Brown added: “In Preston we have been leading the way and we’ve got a lot of employers on board.
“But there’s still a significant number of people working in retail where it’s a major issue, and also the social care sector.
“We’ve got to do something to address that.
“There probably needs to be a debate about whether the minimum wage level needs to be raised to the living wage level to make sure all employers pay it.”
The figures, released to coincide with the 15th anniversary of the introduction of the minimum wage, showed that 14.2 per cent of full-time employees in Preston received less than the living wage.
They revealed that 46.4 per cent of part-time employees were paid less than the living wage, broken down into 78 per cent of males and 38.5 per cent of females.
Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce said: “We applaud all of those businesses that pay, or aspire to pay, their staff above the living wage.
“That includes a huge majority of Chamber of Commerce members, with 61 per cent paying all staff at or above the living wage, and a further 20 per cent paying most staff above the living wage rate.
“Yet many businesses tell us that there is a limit to what they can afford.
“There is no doubt that there has been an increase in disparity between top earners and the low-paid. There has also been an alarming diminution of social mobility.
“However, this is not a phenomenon born during the recent recession, but a trend that has been developing over decades.
“The problems underlying low pay will not be solved by simply driving up wages and adding cost to the economy.
“Time after time, and in country after country, outcomes show that the best way to raise pay is through better education and training, in schools, universities and the workplace.
“We are a knowledge-based economy, and this is where our future lies.”
‘Poverty hits the suburbs’: see tomorrow’s Evening Post.