Low-paid workers are struggling due to "rip-off youth rates" and a lack of employment rights, a trade union has said.
Workers such as retail staff and warehouse employees have seen their living standards squeezed and their families “suffer” as wages have failed to keep up with rising energy bills and costs.
Usdaw (the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) added some younger workers were in effect being ripped off by being paid as little as £5.28 per hour, which is the national minimum wage for those under 18.
Usdaw urged the government to make employers pay people the same wage for the same job, raise the minimum wage, introduce a minimum 16-hour contract and protect workers against violence.
Paddy Lillis, general secretary of Usdaw, wrote: "Every worker deserves a wage they can live on, so we also need to end the rip-off youth rates that allow employers to pay young workers as little as £5.28 per hour.
"Workers should be paid the same wage for doing the same job, irrespective of age."
It comes after its survey of 7,500 low-paid key workers revealed 83% felt financially worse off than last year and nearly two in three were struggling to pay energy bills.
The study also showed that almost three in four reported that financial worries impacted their mental health.
Lillis added: “At the heart of this cost of living crisis is a lack of decent employment rights.
“Low-paid workers are particularly vulnerable to having their hours, wages or terms and conditions cut.”
The union called for an immediate increase in the minimum wage to at least £12 per hour as a step towards an eventual £15 minimum.
Usdaw, which is supporting the Labour Party in the next election, also urged the government to protect workers from threats at work.
It added: “Our members face shocking levels of violence, threats and abuse.
“That is why we are calling for better legal protection for everyone in the UK, making it a specific offence to abuse public-facing workers, with a sentence that fits the crime.”
Earlier this month, millions of the lowest-paid workers across the UK received a pay increase as the statutory hourly rate rose by 9.7% from £9.50 to £10.42 for adults aged over 23.
Ministers said the 9.7% increase kept the government on track to achieve its manifesto commitment for the National Living Wage to equal two-thirds of median earnings by 2024, provided economic conditions allow.
The rise will particularly benefit workers in sectors such as retail, hospitality and cleaning and maintenance, as well as women from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, the government said.
At the time, Lillis said: “We provided the Low Pay Commission with evidence of why we need a new deal for workers, which includes at least £12 per hour immediately, as a step to £15, and an end to unjust rip-off youth rates.
“This uprating shows that the government has not gone far enough to help the lowest paid workers through the biggest cost-of-living crisis in 50 years.”
UK inflation slowed last month on the back of lower petrol prices but remained in double figures as household budgets continue to come under pressure.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that Consumer Prices Index (CPI) inflation fell to 10.1% in March from 10.4% in February.
Yahoo News UK has contacted the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy for comment.