The UK government's poverty czar has warned that something "really disturbing" is happening to people at the bottom of the jobs market.
Frank Field, who was appointed to the position by David Cameron in 2010 and served as minister for welfare reform under Tony Blair's premiership, made the comments to IBTimes UK after the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that pay rose just £1 ($1.5, €1.2) a week last year – its weakest level since 1997.
The research body explained that average weekly earnings for full-time employees stood at £518 in April, up from £517 last year.
"This adds to a growing list of studies showing that wages at the bottom of the pile are simply too low to make work pay," the Labour MP for Birkenhead said.
"There is something really disturbing happening to people at the bottom of our labour market, and taxpayers are subsidising these poverty wages to the tune of £30bn a year in tax credits.
"It's great that some employers are beginning to realise the good that comes from paying their workers enough to live on – a Living Wage – and I've been pushing each of the main political parties to ask those industries that can afford to pay their low paid staff a higher minimum wage, to do so. Labour recently committed to this strategy, will the others now follow?"
The ONS also revealed that there were 236,000 jobs with pay less than the National Minimum Wage (NMW) held by employees aged 16 and over in April 2014 – equivalent to 0.9% of UK employee jobs.
The study, based on a new methodology which accounts for the apprentice NMW, found that there were 9,000 jobs held by 16 to 17-year-olds (2.7% of jobs in this age group) with pay less than the NMW.
For 18 to 20-year-olds, there were 31,000 jobs (2.9% of jobs in this age group) with pay less than the NMW.
For employees aged 21 and over, there were 196,000 jobs (0.8% of jobs in this age group) with pay less than the NMW (of £6.50 per hour).
Based on the previous methodology, which did not account for the apprentice NMW rate, there were 309,000 jobs (1.2% of UK employee jobs) with pay less than the NMW held by employees aged 16 and over in April 2014. This is up from 280,000 (1.1% of jobs) in April 2013.
"For the most part employers show a good understanding of the requirements associated with minimum wage legislation," said Geraint Johnes, director of Lancaster University's Work Foundation.
"It may be that there is work still to be done in ensuring that they respond quickly enough to workers' changing minimum wage rates as the employees pass key birthdays or as they graduate from apprentice status.
"It may also be that there is work still to be done in communicating effectively to employers their responsibilities to younger workers.
"More generally, there is a need for employers – and for society in general – to nurture younger workers, providing them with jobs that offer a genuine career path with the promise of development and progression."