ALMOST a quarter of people working in Bournemouth earn less than the Living Wage, new figures show.

Across Dorset, almost one in four people earn less than the Living Wage of £7.65 an hour.

The figures, based on analysis of official statistics, were released by the TUC to coincide with Fair Pay Fortnight.

Bournemouth has 23.9 per cent of its workforce earning under the Living Wage, Poole 16.4 per cent, East Dorset 23.1 per cent, Christchurch 22 per cent, North Dorset 24.8 per cent and Weymouth and Portland 28.8 per cent.

Neil Duncan-Jordan, chair of the Living Wage for Dorset Campaign, said: “Dorset is a nice place to visit on holiday but people who come should realise that those who live here and work in the hotels or restaurants or bars aren’t necessarily getting paid very well.”

He said it was often big high street names who were the lowest-paying employers.

“Seventy-five per cent of the lowest paid workers are employed by just 18 per cent of businesses in the area,” he said.

He said low wages cost the taxpayer money in tax credits and benefits. “Sixty per cent of all benefits claimants have jobs,” he said.

The legal minimum wage for over-21s is £6.31 an hour but the Living Wage is a figure devised by the Centre for Research in Social Policy and based on the cost of living.

Nigel Costley, regional secretary for the South West TUC, said: “Working families are experiencing the biggest pressure on their living standards since Victorian times. Pay has been squeezed at all levels below the boardroom and it’s costing the South West’s economy dear.”

Ian Girling, chief executive of Dorset Chamber of Commerce and Industry, backed the Living Wage in principle but said the economic recovery was ‘fragile’.

“Wage pressures are still a real issue for many businesses,” he said.

“I support the concept of the Living Wage. I think it’s important for businesses to properly reward and look after their staff. I also think consumers are being massively squeezed and as employees we’ve all faced massive pressures over the last two years..

“Employers that are seen to be paying their staff fairly well see the benefits in terms of reduced turnover of staff, there’s evidence of reduced absenteeism and hopefully increased productivity should follow from that. Businesses have a responsibility to look after the staff but it’s got to be an affordable option for business.”

COSMETICS retailer Lush has defended its decision not to pay the Living Wage in Dorset.

Neil Duncan-Jordan, of the Living Wage for Dorset Campaign, said: “Lush in London pay the living wage. They don’t pay it here. I don’t understand why.”

A statement from Lush’s financial director Kim Coles said the company was committed to increasing pay for its hourly-paid employees “where we can and when profits allow”.

She said committing to the living wage would be a “struggle when the costs of doing business on the UK High Street are so high with rents and business rates in particular being so extreme”.

She said the cost of bridging the gap between the national minimum wage of £6.31 and the £7.65 Living Wage was “massive” for a retail business. Lush’s minimum wage is £6.56.

She added: “We prioritised the pay of our London staff as that was the area where the biggest struggles were taking place and the costs of transport and rents in particular were making it incredibly hard for them to make ends meet.”

Many under-21s working in its shops received “significantly more” than the minimum wage for their ages – with a 17-year-old outside London making £6.56 an hour instead of the minimum £3.72.