Home Business News Unravelling the enigma: Understanding the stagnation of wages in the UK

Unravelling the enigma: Understanding the stagnation of wages in the UK

by LLB staff reporter
4th Apr 24 10:57 am

In recent decades, the issue of stagnant wages has been a persistent challenge in the United Kingdom, puzzling economists, policymakers and workers alike. Despite overall economic growth and rising productivity, many employees find themselves grappling with stagnant or sluggish wage growth.

This phenomenon has sparked intense debate, with various factors being cited as contributors to this trend. Let us delve into the complex web of reasons behind the stagnation of wages in the UK.

Structural changes in the labour market

Over the years, the UK’s labour market has undergone significant structural transformations. The decline of traditional industries such as manufacturing and mining, coupled with the rise of the service sector, has altered the composition of jobs available.

The service sector, which tends to offer lower-paying jobs compared to manufacturing, has become dominant. This shift has exerted downward pressure on wages, particularly for those employed in low-skilled service jobs.

Globalisation and outsourcing

The process of globalisation has interconnected economies worldwide, leading to increased competition in the labour market. Outsourcing jobs to countries with lower labour costs has become commonplace, especially in industries like IT, customer service and manufacturing.

This global competition has suppressed wages in certain sectors as companies seek to cut costs by outsourcing labour-intensive tasks to cheaper overseas locations.

Technological advancements

The rapid advancement of technology has revolutionised the way we work, with automation and artificial intelligence (AI) increasingly replacing human labour in various industries. While technology enhances productivity and efficiency, it also disrupts traditional employment patterns. Jobs that are susceptible to automation often experience wage stagnation or decline as the supply of labour exceeds demand, leading to downward pressure on wages.

Weak wage bargaining power

The erosion of collective bargaining power, particularly in the private sector, has weakened the ability of workers to negotiate for higher wages.

Declining union membership, legislative changes favouring employers and the rise of precarious employment contracts have tilted the balance of power in favour of employers. Consequently, workers find themselves with limited leverage to demand wage increases, contributing to stagnant wages across many sectors.

Policy decisions and austerity measures

Government policies and austerity measures implemented in response to economic crises have also played a role in wage stagnation. Cuts to public sector wages, freeze on public sector pay and reductions in welfare benefits have suppressed overall wage growth.

Austerity measures aimed at reducing government spending have had ripple effects throughout the economy, constraining consumer spending and dampening demand for goods and services, further exacerbating the wage stagnation problem.

Tedious hiring processes

UK hiring culture has made moving from job to job difficult due to the amount of time it takes. Recruiters require candidates to go through many stages of interviews and checks, like a DBS check, before offering positions to applicants.

As a result, employees stay in their current roles without receiving suitable wage increases that reflect their skills and experience, keeping wages low. Although there are companies that try to simplify the hiring process, like Funky Socks, the majority of employers have time-consuming and ineffective hiring processes.

Inequality and wage polarisation

Rising income inequality has been a defining feature of the UK’s economic landscape, with a disproportionate share of income accruing to the highest earners.

This trend towards wage polarisation, where high-skilled workers command higher wages while low-skilled workers face stagnant or declining wages, has widened the gap between the rich and the poor.

Structural changes in the economy, technological advancements, and globalisation have all contributed to this polarisation, exacerbating wage stagnation for low and middle-income earners.

Lack of skills and education mismatch

In an increasingly knowledge-based economy, skills and education play a crucial role in determining wage levels. However, there exists a mismatch between the skills demanded by employers and those possessed by the workforce.

A lack of investment in education and training, coupled with disparities in access to quality education, has resulted in a skills gap wherein many workers lack the skills necessary to command higher wages. This mismatch contributes to wage stagnation by limiting upward mobility and perpetuating low-wage employment.


The stagnation of wages in the United Kingdom is a multifaceted issue rooted in structural, economic and policy-related factors. Addressing this challenge requires a comprehensive approach that tackles underlying structural inequalities, promotes investment in education and skills training, strengthens labour market institutions, and implements policies aimed at fostering inclusive growth. By addressing the root causes of wage stagnation, the UK can strive towards a more equitable and prosperous future for all its citizens.

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