Average wages for 90 per cent of British workers are less than half what you’ve been told

Thanks go to a Vox Political reader for passing on the link to this article.

NOTE: This article has attracted some criticism from readers who think the figures are inaccurate because the figures should be median and not mean averages. I have bad news for those readers:

Having gone into the figures provided by the Office for National Statistics, if you strip out the top 10 per cent, a close approximation of the median average pay earned by the remaining 90 per cent can be found by checking the fifth decile, which was £12,872 for the financial year 2013/14. If you want to argue about £97, feel free, but I think you’ll be arguing about the difference between that rough figure and the actual average.

There are other variations. For example, the article has the median average wage of the top 10 per cent at £79,196 but the ONS puts it at £82,899.

Median average earnings for the whole working population is £26,500, according to the Equality Trust, the High Pay Centre and the government, but the ONS had it at £24,564.

Median average for the bottom 10 per cent was just £1,036, according to the ONS, while the median average for the bottom 20 per cent was £5,521.

The article is accurate – or at least, as accurate as it is able to be.

The Equality Trust and High Pay Centre has average pay for UK workers calculated as £26,500. However, average pay conceals the reality for millions.

For instance, the top 0.1% are earning a few pounds over £1 million a year and the top 1% are earning an average £271,888. What this figure hides is the fact that the top FTSE chief executives are earning an average of £4.3 million and it takes them just 2.5 days to earn the average annual workers pay. These statistics do not include other successful groups such as self employed entrepreneurs.

The top 10% of UK workers earn £79,196. But the truth here is that this also includes the earnings of the top 1%, meaning the next 9% don’t really earn that figure.

What is grotesque is the next number that should shock everyone. The average pay of the next 90%, (by stripping out all earnings of the top 10%, including the 1% and 0.1% groups) leaves an annual income of just £12,969. Yes, you read that right. Stripping out the top 10% of average pay, leaves just £12,969 average pay for the remaining 90% of the population.

What is interesting about the figures collated by the Inequality Trust is that the data is about two years old (not their fault – it’s what is available), so things will actually be slightly worse as all analysts agree that inequality is getting worse, not better.

Source: The Truth About Poverty In Britain Is Much Worse Than You Think | Global Research – Centre for Research on Globalization

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54 thoughts on “Average wages for 90 per cent of British workers are less than half what you’ve been told

  1. David Bacon

    Is this a variation on the old truism, “It’s the rich what gets the gravy and the poor what gets the blame?” It’s certainly the poor and those on average wages (who are poor any way) who pay for the bankers misdemeanors as though they in some way responsible for the greed and inefficiency of people like the bankers. Certainly the austerity Osborne foists on the poor via cuts to wages and benefits helps the rich to stay rich.

  2. amnesiaclinic

    Please read the article. Since cameron took office 500,000 children have fallen into poverty. 1 in 5 adults is below the poverty line as well.

    The government should resign in shame.

    1. Christine Bergin

      This bunch are doing what they intended to – destroy the welfare state which us poor ‘oicks pay for in taxation. It will come back to bite them when the supply of ‘oicks runs out and they have to do for themselves. They have no shame!

  3. Neilth

    Average is a pretty meaningless term in mathematics as it’s never clear which average is referred to. As I recall from o level maths ( I am that old) there are three averages, mean, mode and median each of which can present a different picture.

    Perhaps we should stop using the word average and start using raw facts ie a small handful of very rich individuals are paid (they certainly don’t ‘earn’) more than all the rest of us put together and that this inequity is getting more pronounced. This causes a huge imbalance in the economy as the rich tend to hoard their wealth whereas the poor are forced to spend all they earn. The latter is what keeps the economy moving the former is what is stifling growth.

    1. Barry Davies

      Indeed without knowing which form of average has been used the term is meaningless, but whichever way you look at it there are going to be a massive amount of people not having that income and those at the bottom are getting further away from those at the top every time a percentage raise is awarded.

      1. Mike Sivier Post author

        It’s median. I had indicated mean in a comment but that was a mistake. I’ve just been through the figures in response to another commenter and added the findings to the article.

  4. lallygag26

    I’m afraid I think it can’t possibly be right. Median wage calculations are far better than average wage calculations to give a snapshot of the population. Averages calculated in this way tell you nothing and are very misleading. Inequality is growing at a grotesque rate. The rich are getting increasingly rich whilst the poor become poorer not only in comparative terms but, shamefully, in real terms. But the idea that 90% of the population is living on just over a £1000 per month gross pay can’t be correct. Who could buy a house, pay the rent, or run a car on that income? And people clearly do all those things… However, those who aren’t in full time work live on pittances that should be a badge of shame to any society – far less than £12,000.

    Homelessness is growing, graduates are returning to the family home to live, the adult children of lower income families in high rent areas never get the chance to leave home in the first place. All these problems and more are real. But we still have lots of people who are renting or buying and having holidays abroad – and they are not the ‘super-rich’.

    But in among the ‘income earners’ on which the £26,500 is based will be pensioners doing a few hours to top up their pensions, people on ESA doing permitted work which may bring in either £20 or £100 per week, depending on circumstances, the enforced ‘self-employment’ of those forced off their benefit when there is no paid employment who may be scraping the equivalent of benefit by doing odd jobs, the person on a zero hours contract or very part time contract who only takes home £150 a week – far short of £12000 per year. Those figures wildly distort an average as much as the millionaire’s salaries do. So if you take out the very rich earners, you must take out the very poor earners too to get the median figure which will be most representative of people’s incomes. having said that I am surprised that it is as high as £26,500 – I thought it had dropped substantially, to around £23,000 – a shocking figure in its own right, even if not as eye-catching as the £12,000 you quote.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      You’re missing the point. It is precisely the meagre amounts you want to discount that are the problem being highlighted.
      Trying to justify low wages by saying some of it “will be” pensioners and whatnot is just a mealy-mouthed attempt to squirm away from the issue.
      But here’s a way of testing these figures:
      Go somewhere public, like a shopping centre or a pub. Tell people the average wage is £26,000+ and ask them if it is more, less or the same as they earn.
      You might be surprised by the answers.

      1. Toby page

        Either the figures of 12k don’t add up or the top 10% are not earning 79k. nased on simple maths if the average is 26.5k and the top 10% average 79k then the other 90% average a little over 20k. The figure of 12k is below the adult minimum wage. You can really imagine the the average is less than this? Nonsense!

    2. Seamus

      The point is though that nobody uses median vaules in most publicised statistics. Averages are inherently misleading when the weighting is really unbalanced.

    3. Mam Bach

      How could people do all those things? Debt. How do us plebeians afford to buy a home? Mortgages.

      How do we afford a holiday abroad? Does a weekend in Blackpool count as abroad? If not, we don’t (the only people on our street who’ve been abroad in the last year were the Pakistani family who went to a family wedding)

      How do we buy a car. Hire Purchase. Or more usually second -hand, where the ongoing fee is how often it needs fixing.

  5. Dez

    I guess any future increases may be down to the big increases that the so called elite pay themselves usually way above inflation without comment. This skew to the top earners means the poorer are still frozen or just catching up. Not sure where the vast number of reduced time workers fit into these stats which must also be reflected somewhere.

  6. Matthew Stanton

    The UK median salary was c £21k in 2012/3, so I am not sure how the £13k is arrived at – does in include those who don’t work? It is pre or post taxes and benefits?

    The median salary is not distorted by the extremes, so I don’t quite see how it fits with the above.

    I would like to see quite a bit more detail, but chasing the links comes to a single page PDF graphic which does not contain enough information to see how they came up with their number

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      It’s the ‘mean’ average salary for the 90 per cent of people with jobs who aren’t in the top 10 per cent of earners.
      So no, it doesn’t include people who don’t work, it isn’t post-tax and it doesn’t include benefits.
      I thought the information was self-explanatory. If you have questions, why not contact the source site and see what they have to say?

      1. Archie

        Mike, you are posting the details here – do you not think you have some responsibility to check that they are accurate , rather than just telling people to “contact the source site” ?

        I have no idea whether the underlying source figures are accurate or not – but taking them at face value, if you had 10% of people earning an average of 79000 and the remaining 90% of people earning 12969, the overall average (mean) salary would work out at 19000 or so. But the document itself states that the overall average salary is 26500. So something is not right about the calculations even if you accept the raw data.

        In order to get the average to come out as 26500, the ‘other 90%’ must be earning an average of about 21000 – which sounds a lot more plausible than 12969.

      2. Mike Sivier Post author

        Apparently the averages we’re handling are median figures, rather than mean.
        I take the same responsibility for this article as I do for all the others I pass on to readers of This Blog; it interested me and I wanted to see what readers would make of it.
        Anyone taking issue with the information provided should talk to the people who wrote the article, rather than complaining to someone who, with only the best intentions, simply passed it on.
        My advice, therefore, is that you should contact the original authors – and let us know what they said. Can we trust you in this?

      3. Joe Hudson

        I already sent a message to Equality Trust about the figures. I’m awaiting a reply. I think if the figures were medians, then they could work. Effectively they would say 45% of the working population earn below £12.9k pa, which seems quite plausible to me. Around Southampton where I live, it seems most of the cafes and restaurants I see are empty most of the time they’re open even during evenings, and the shops are changing hands very quickly.

      4. Barry Davies

        Maybe a mode average would be better i.e the amount earned by the majority of the population because both mean and median are biased by the top rather than the bottom.

  7. Joe Hudson

    Economic inequality is devastatingly high and I wouldn’t be surprised is a 30-40% of our 30m workforce live on around 12k pa. However, in the case of the figures presents, it looks to me there is a mathematical error.
    If we recombine the stated £79k of the top 10% with the 12k of the bottom 90% we get an average (mean) of 79196 + (9*12969))/10 = 19592. Well under the official average of £26k. So something has been miscalculated there.
    If we keep the 79k and the 26k, that would lead to an average of 26, then the average of the bottom 90% must be (26.5*10 – 79.2) / 9 = 185.8/9 = 20.67k
    Still, that would be the mean, and more than what most of the 90% have (since distribution is non-linearly unequal). The mode I’d guess is closer to £15-16k for the bottom 90%.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      I think you’re better-off sticking with what the article said. All you’re showing is that, when you’re dealing with averages, it’s easy to make them say what you want by mistake. Bear in mind: “The top 10% of UK workers earn £79,196. But the truth here is that this also includes the earnings of the top 1%, meaning the next 9% don’t really earn that figure.”

      1. Archie

        But if the top 10% “don’t really earn as much as 79000”, the bottom 90% would need to be earning a still higher amount in order to make up the average to 26500. I’m sorry, but I think these claimed figures don’t make sense.

      2. Mike Sivier Post author

        You misread. Nobody said the top 10 per cent don’t earn that much, on average.
        No, the top one per cent earn much more, meaning the average for the other nine-tenths of that top 10 per cent is skewed upwards.
        This means your follow-up claim is wrong. The other 90 per cent aren’t earning more than was claimed.

      3. Joe Hudson

        The article says (based on the info-graphic): “The Equality Trust and High Pay Centre has average pay for UK workers calculated as £26,500.” and “Stripping out the top 10% of average pay, leaves just £12,969 average pay for the remaining 90% of the population.” and “The top 10% of UK workers earn £79,196. [on average]”.
        If we’re talking about one specific type of average (e.g. mean), then there is only one mathematically correct figure for the bottom 90%, if the overall average, and the top 10% average are accepted. That correct figure is not £12.9k. It is actually £20.6k.

        The fact that pay is very unevenly distributed within any income centile does not change the above conclusion.

      4. Mike Sivier Post author

        But your claim that the mean average is so far above the median average is a scandal in itself, don’t you think – because most people aren’t earning anything like that amount?

  8. Tali

    Mike – really shocking article (I’m a stats grad and whilst I was aware of the shifting due to the high earners, I am sick that I never considered that you can’t show the top end figures, without showing the bottom end figures!!!), also have you looked at this in relation to what the govt actually uses to calculate “low income”. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/432843/hbai-low-income-how-is-it-measured-infographic.pdf I was shocked to realise that when it comes to deciding if someone is on low income, suddenly they have a sample of 20,000 that apparently is taken to make sure it represents the population, and end up with a figure of around £24K (so pretty much matches the figures given when you look at the 90% figure) average household income for a couple with no kids.

    It feels completely wrong to me how they’ll use whatever stats they want, for whatever purpose they want.

    I do understand that household income is different to personal average income, because it depends on what both people are doing, but ALSO not least that it will be shunted DOWN by those who are affluent, being able to afford to lose one partners wages, when they have kids, and shunted UP, by those at the lower middle, who cannot afford for one partner to stop working. But in the second scenario, that household would then losing a huge proportion of that money to child care, which is not taken into account!

  9. Statto

    Can the figures quoted in the article actually be correct? As at the end of 2014 there were 31 million people in work in the UK. So with an average of £26500 per person, the total earnings “cake” is the product of these, ie £821.5 billion. If the top 10% (3.1 million) take an average of £79196 each, they take £245.5 billion of the cake, leaving £576 billion for the rest of us, divided among 27.9 million people. This makes the average per person for us “90%” of £20645, not £12969.

    Where have I gone wrong???

  10. Jonathan

    I’m not quite sure what your piece is trying to say. That not everyone earns the average wage, or that any average is skewed by large numbers.

    Of course if you remove the highest figures from any average, that average would go down. But that’s elementary maths.

    The headline is by this reasoning not quite accurate. The average wage of 26.5k is entirely true, assuming the sources are correct.

    Your point that *most* people earn less is valid, but has nothing to do with the average.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Take away the top 10 per cent and the average is halved. That’s a pretty strong statement about where the money is concentrated. Why do these few people need so much, leaving the rest with so little?
      The headline is valid. Your reasoning is flawed.
      I wonder what you are trying to say.

      1. Jonathan

        Well, that’s not what your headline says. If you take away the top 10% from any average, that average will change. I have “been told” that the average wage is 26.5k, and that — however unfairly distributed it may be — is true (again, assuming those figures are good).

        But I get your point. There’s no need to be so defensive.

        My reasoning is fine. I agree with your sentiments. But if your explanation is ambiguous, you weaken your argument.


  11. Angelica

    Oh dear god. Okay, I’m not usually one to pick over stats that make a point that’s generally correct, yes, inequality and poverty levels in the UK are shocking, but… these stats are light years off, and I’m pretty shocked that someone up there claiming to be a stats grad hasn’t picked that out.

    £26.5k is *median* (pre-tax, full-time). It’s not swayed by the number of people earning millions, billions of pounds. It’s the middle point: fifty percent of (full-time earning) people earn more, fifty per cent less. Possibly Equality Trust should have specified that median rather than mean was in here, but it’s less of an oversight than writing a whole article without checking that it’s the latter.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      You do realise that what you’re saying makes the finding even worse?
      If half of earners in the country are earning £26.5k or less, while the other half are earning anything up to – and possibly beyond – £4.3 MILLION, then that indicates inequality at the level of atrocity.
      In fairness, there’s nothing in the article to suggest they’re calculating averages in a different way. I had taken it as being a mean figure but I’m happy to accept that may not be the case.

  12. Roger Saint

    This is crap. The Office of National Statistics figures are for MEDIAN average wages, not for mean average wages. This means that the pay of the top 1% or 10% is irrelevant – it’s about the average wage in the middle of the income distribution, and that’s £26.5k. Your point would only hold if the ONS were looking at the mean average.

    You also give no indication as to how you reached your figure. Did you strip out an estimated figure for top earners and divide what remained by a) the total remaining UK population, b) the total remaining UK working population, c) the population of full time workers?

    It would be good if you could explain your methodology. Without it, it looks a lot like you’ve concocted an inaccurate figure to make a political point.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      It would be good if you sent this comment to the original authors, to see what they had to say.
      Be sure to let us know their answer.

  13. Toby page

    The report cites an ONS report that is based on Median income of full time employees. To be in the 90th percentile you need to earn more than around 1000 gbp. To be in the 10th percentile you need to earn less than around 300 gbp per week ( or ~15k annually). Therefore there is a fundamental issue in the report. As a journalist is it not your responsibility to validate information before you try to use it to make a point? Don’t blindly believe everything you read on the Internet and take it as gospel!

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      As a blogger, it is my responsibility to bring articles that are of interest to wider attention.
      If you are so concerned, you should take those concerns to the article’s authors.

      1. Johnny English

        OK, so you feel that you can just re-print bad data, but aren’t you at least interested now in understanding why that data was wrong? Your numbers are horrendously off, and the fact that you had to have median and mean explained to you suggests that you just don’t “get” how numbers work.

        It’d do you some good to correct this, and as a bonus, it’ll perhaps allow you to earn more money, which is how everyone I know in the top 1% has got there.

      2. Mike Sivier Post author

        No, the numbers are correct, according to the Office for National Statistics – as stated in the article.
        I did not need to have median and mean explained to me – I merely made an incorrect assumption at one point.
        Perhaps you should learn to check information before making such hugely mistaken and prejudicial remarks.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      I do understand the difference, but I think you are commenting to the original article, rather than me.
      That, of course, suggests that you don’t understand the difference between an original article and a reblog or excerpt.

  14. yasminegrey

    This just isn’t correct. The figure for average pay used is the median, not the mean, so it isn’t influenced by the earnings of the very rich. The 26K figure is the amount that half the population earn less than, and half earn more than.

    Disseminating misinformation doesn’t help anybody. Please, check your numbers before spreading baseless grievance-mongering.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      I’ve got some bad news for you.
      Having gone into the figures provided by the Office for National Statistics, if you strip out the top 10 per cent, a close approximation of the median average pay earned by the remaining 90 per cent can be found by checking the fifth decile, which was £12,872 for the financial year 2013/14. If you want to argue about £97, feel free, feel free, but I think you’ll be arguing about the difference between that rough figure and the actual average.
      There are other variations. For example, the article has the median average wage of the top 10 per cent at £79,196 but the ONS puts it at £82,899.
      Median average earnings for the whole working population is £26,500, according to the Equality Trust, the High Pay Centre and the government, but the ONS had it at £24,564.
      Median average for the bottom 10 per cent was just £1,036, according to the ONS, while the median average for the bottom 20 per cent was £5,521.
      THE ARTICLE IS ACCURATE – or at least, as accurate as it is able to be.
      Perhaps you should have checked YOUR numbers.

      1. Chris

        If you strip out the top 10%, the median average pay earned by the others is exactly the pay earned by the 45th percentile of the original distribution: that follows from the definition of median. It would be kind of surprising if that were very different to the median of the whole distribution (the 50th percentile). Per table 3 of the ONS figures, the average income for the 2nd quintile of households before benefits is £13,731, so the 45% percentile of the overall distribution logically must be higher than this.

      2. Mike Sivier Post author

        There are decile figures further down. If you have a look at those, you might be unpleasantly surprised.

      3. Harry P

        Mike, I’m looking at that table of ONS statistics, and I can’t find the 12,872 figure you quote?

        I’m looking at table 14 which has deciles. A bit broad to try and figure out the effect of stripping out the top 10%, but if you want to move from fifth to fourth decile, I can’t see anywhere that shows a drop as big as the one you’re describing?

        A better table to look at might be one with percentiles, that way we can switch from a median at the 50th percentile to one at the 45th. Here’s some figures: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/percentile-points-from-1-to-99-for-total-income-before-and-after-tax

        that would show a move from 21k to 19k, which seems very different to the numbers you have?

  15. Ben Grillet

    No matter how you slice this cake it is indefensible. Not only morally, as we are driven back to Dickensian standards of inequality, but administratively, in that it is making the economy less and less functional, it’s slowing the very bloodflow of the bottom tier(s) of commerce and cashflow, so more and more is dependant on increasing personal debt AGAIN to keep the wheels turning. Haven’t they learnt that lesson ffs? That’s why another shuddering crunch is inevitable. The household debt to expendable income ratio is now worse than before the last crash. This model is f***ed – time to prime the people pump, not the useless banks – invest in public housing (decent f/t jobs + affordable, efficient homes), nationalised upgraded public transport (jobs + efficient low carbon flexible transport + better traffic flow) and green energy generation and conservation (jobs + emissions targets + power security for the future. Finally, introduce a Citizen’s Income + 40% Local Income Tax, to replace Council tax, national Income Tax and N.I.

  16. Ajay

    I can quite believe the 12k figure because before I became disabled, that’s what I was earning before tax. I did work full time and most of the people I knew were earning around the same as me. This was in 2012 and I’ve heard that my old coworkers have yet to have a pay rise because of “this time of austerity” BS.

  17. Tim Stacey


    I’m one of the researchers who works for the Equality Trust whose figures are cited in the post. I just thought I could clear up some of the confusions in the different statistics used here and clarify why they are different. Firstly the post you quote links through to an Equality Trust infographic which is several years old and there is much newer and better data. It is referring to median full time earnings in 2012 (technically from april 2011 to April 2012) taken from the ONS’s Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings. The figure you quote from the ONS’s Effects of tax and benefits is mean household income from wages and salaries (adjusted for household size) in 2013/14. This includes both full time and part time workers. That’s why it’s substantially lower than the other figure even though it’s newer.

    If you’re interested in the individual median level of earnings including both part time and full time that’s currently £22,487, according to the latest Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/ashe/annual-survey-of-hours-and-earnings/2015-provisional-results/index.html)

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      The ONS Effects of tax and benefits is presented as MEDIAN household income from wages and salaries, as far as I could see.
      Interesting that the current average has fallen. Have the fatcats taken less, or…?

Comments are closed.