Real wages in the UK – how inflation is impacting your salary

Real wages – are you feeling the pinch?

Since joining the full time workforce in 2007, all I’ve heard people talk about is the good old days of substantial annual wage increases and how these days are no more.

Wages don’t seem to be going up in the way they used to.

In fact, following the recession in 2007, real wages may have even fallen.

Time for some statistical analysis I think…


Real wages – what are they?

Real wages is the comparison of wage increase versus inflation and represents the true value of your salary. For example, if your weekly salary increases (year on year) from 100 to 101, you may be pleased. However, if annual inflation is 5% that means that this a product which previously cost 100 now costs 105, and you can no longer afford it even if your salary increased.


Average weekly wages

According to the national database for statistics, the average weekly wage has increased from £311 per week in January 2000 to £474 per week in August 2013. This represents a 52% increase over that time, or a 4.03% increase each year during that time. On the face of it, this seems pretty good.

But what about inflation?

Well, the consumer price index (which is a widely used measure of inflation in the UK) has increased by 37%, or 3.01% each year over the same period. This reduces the effect of the wage increase. However, in this time period, we can see that we still have a positive net growth.


What does it all mean?

Well, since 2000, the average workers real wage has actually increased by 15% or around 1.1% each year.

We can see this graphically (notice that the basis for each as follows:

Real wages since 2000

The good old days

Yep, people do really have short memories. In the introduction, we said that people say that wages don’t seem to increase like they used to.

Let’s take my first year in the full time workforce in 2007 as the starting point:

Real wages since 2007

In this case, we can see that these people are right. Average weekly wages have increased by 13% in the period, with inflation increasing by 22%, representing a 9% fall in real wages (or a 1.4% annual decrease).

Looking at 2009 as the starting point, things get even worse:

Real wages since 2009

A 7% in weekly average wages versus a 16% increase in inflation gives us an annual real wage decrease of 1.9% each year.

Therefore, in the 4 years since the start of 2009, we have become 1.9% poorer through our annual income. This isn’t a good start for everyone desperately trying to earn more and spend less to be able to save more towards life and retirement!


Break even point

So, we can see that real wages since 2000 have increase, but since 2007 have decrease. So, where is the point in between where “real wages today equal real wages in X”?

I won’t keep you in suspense, it’s the beginning of 2004:

Real wages since 2004


Public vs private sector

In this time, I have also heard that “all the salary cuts come from the public sector” and that the “government cuts have hit the public sector hard”.

Well, apologies to those who like to complain, but the statistics don’t seem to support your hypothesis.

Since 2000, private sector wages have increased by 52% and public sector by 54%.

Maybe the cuts have been deeper? Nope.

Since 2007, private sector wages have increased by 13% and public sector by 16%.


Real wages – a conclusion

Unfortunately, in the past 5-6 years, we have become poorer. However, its important to remember that this is a short term cycle and it follows many years where pay increases have outperformed inflation.

What should you do about it?

1)      Count yourself lucky you have a job.

2)      If you want to beat the impact of falling real wages, you can increase your gross wage through other means – additional passive income, a second job, working towards a promotion, move to a better paying company. There are plenty of ways to beat the “average” if you are willing to put in the effort.

3)      Go to the public sector. They clearly have a great time over there because that weekly earnings is based on much fewer hours worked!! I joke. Kind of.


When did you join the work force? What have you noticed about the purchasing power of your wages? Are those “good old days” long gone?


7 thoughts on “Real wages in the UK – how inflation is impacting your salary

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  5. This is the second post I have read and this one is very informative, too. We have the same problem in America with real wages. I thought your closing suggestions were really compelling. If people can somehow get money to invest in markets then they can use this inflation trend to their advantage. However, for most of us this is easier said than done. Very insightful post, so thanks!

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