Dave Prentis 06 December 2013

Adopting the Living Wage

Adopting the Living Wage image

The Living Wage is a concept that is gaining support from employers and politicians, but we are still a long way off achieving this basic standard of decency, even in local government. It is currently £8.80 an hour in London and £7.65 outside and is calculated to cover the essentials of life.

We are the 6th richest nation, but with all this austerity and belt-tightening around, it certainly doesn’t feel like it. Daily we read of telephone number pay and bonuses for those at the very top. Recently, Royal Bank of Scotland boss Sir Philip Hampton revealed that his ‘top bankers’ were ‘outraged’ that they didn’t earn more than £4m a year. Then we heard health secretary Jeremy Hunt would get £17m from the sale of a business he co-shared.

Yet amid all this wealth we have appalling poverty. It is not the bankers and politicians who are tightening their belts, it’s the millions who have little. Food banks on are the rise because people who cannot afford to put food on the table have to queue for a hand-out. It’s not just the jobless, but the working poor, too, who need help. That’s what should provoke outrage.

When it comes to putting the case for the majority to have a little more, those at the top always argue it will cost jobs and the country cannot afford it; the same arguments used against equal pay for women and the introduction of the statutory national minimum wage. Those arguments just do not hold water.

Local government workers are some of the lowest paid in the country. More than 500,000 earn less than the Living Wage, the majority of whom are women. The lowest pay rate is £6.45 an hour: £2.35 below the London Living Wage and £1.20 below the rate outside London.

It’s not a king’s ransom; it’s not too much to ask. If the moral argument of paying people a decent day’s pay for a decent day’s work does not prick the consciences of the great and the good, perhaps some old-fashioned maths might help.

Paying the Living Wage would be good for the economy. A recent study by Landman Economics for Unison found that far from losing jobs, it could create up to 58,000 new jobs through the fact that people with more money tend to spend more money. Don’t we need as many jobs as we can get? Local government alone has lost 407,000 jobs since 2010.

Studies have found public sector workers spend the majority of their cash in local shops, restaurants, hairdressers, businesses, thus giving a boost to the economy. Coupled with an increased tax take for the exchequer, this leads to a ‘virtuous cycle’ with more people employed and a stronger, healthier economy.

We cannot afford not to pay the Living Wage. After all, if we can hand out £45bn to a bank, surely we can give a few pence to the nursery nurse. Paying the Living Wage makes sense.

Dave Prentis is Unison general secretary.

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