ONE in five people in Blackburn, many of them key workers, are being paid below the real living wage, data from the Office for National Statistics has revealed.

Almost 12,000 workers fall below the £9.30 real living wage as defined by the Living Wage Foundation.

The coronavirus outbreak has placed a spotlight on the country’s workers who are vital to keeping services open and businesses running.

Staff in retail, cleaning and the care sector make up a significant number of people who are paid below the hourly rate.

Reacting to the figures, the foundation’s director, Katherine Chapman, said: “We know this is a hugely challenging time for workers and businesses in East Lancashire.

“While it is concerning that there are nearly 12,000 jobs in the Blackburn area that pay less than the real living wage, we also know that there are many businesses working incredibly hard to protect their workers.

“Now, more than ever, it is important that employers and workers work together to support one another, as we each navigate this challenging time.”

In East Lancashire, 47,000 people are being paid below the real living wage, which the foundation claim is needed to afford basic necessities such as bills and food.

On Tuesday the government increased the National Living Wage to a record £8.72 for over-25s ­— an increase of 50p per hour ­— but some argue large wage increases result in unmanageable costs for small businesses.

Miranda Barker, chief executive of the East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said: “What has been revealed during this coronavirus crisis is the strong spirit of community and valuing businesses, employees and everyone very much trying to look after each other.

“However, the problem with the real living wage is it affects different businesses so differently. As time goes on, and we go into next year, and we’ve seen recovery, it will be good to see if we can get businesses evaluating their ability to pay a living wage. I’m right there with it but at the moment it’s a painful thing to stand on a soapbox and insist on.”

Unite’s North West regional secretary, Ritchie James, said: “Workers in East Lancashire, across a host of sectors including distribution, local authorities and the care sector are paid lower wages than similar roles to other areas in the region, purely due to their geographic location. Workers on the minimum wages are paid less than the amount that experts calculate is needed to have an acceptable standard of living and why it is vital that all employers are forced to pay all workers at least the real living wage.”