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A Fair Day's Pay for a Hard Day's Work

Friday 24th April 2015

Writing in the Mirror, the Archbishop writes on the importance of paying a Living Wage & the new opportunities this brings. His article 'Why Jesus would pay the Living Wage?' follows in full...

  

Imagine going to work this week and finding, however much you put your back into it, your take home pay won’t be enough to live on. 

 Some jobs are like that day after day, week after week, year in year out.  Here’s how one worker put it:

 “I do not have a smart phone or a fancy TV, the exhaust on my car is held on with cable ties because after I have paid rent for a flat that is not even self-contained, I cannot afford to do anything else.  I am frightened to put my heating on because I don’t want to be faced with a big bill.  I live alone now after bringing up two daughters up alone.  I can’t afford to go out and socialise to make friends and so my world is becoming very lonely.”

A care worker earning £7 an hour felt pressed by rising food bills and anxieties about the future.  “Even though I’m 30, I still have to rent a room and I could never afford to even think about buying my own place.  I only buy the basics.  I haven’t been on holiday for five years.”... my wages just go on basic living.”

For a long period until very recently, prices have risen faster than wages for millions.  Working and hard-pressed people who find themselves in poverty have increasingly turned up to food banks in their lunch breaks.  Many rely on benefits to make ends meet.

The Bible warns employers against exploiting workers and encourages fair play, so when I was asked to Chair the Living Wage Commission, I felt bound to accept.  I’m glad I did.  Our report was published last year.

We found that the national minimum wage, set by successive governments and legally enforceable, was rarely enough to live on.  It’s £6.50 per hour if you are 21 and over and will go up this October to £6.70.  We reckoned a different standard was needed, called the Living Wage.  We calculated that £7.85 per hour (£9.15 in London) would be essential as a basic income.

Over 5m people are still paid less than the Living Wage.  Result: many have to resort to State benefits and food banks to make ends meet.

It’s a myth to suggest that people on benefit must be scroungers.  Most people in poverty in the UK are working.  Women and younger workers are particularly disadvantaged.  61% of children living in poverty actually have working parents.

Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, said last year that pay rises would lead to wider economic growth: “in order to see a return to consistent growth we need to see an improvement in all sectors and we also need to see a substantial increase in wages.”

When the Living Wage is introduced by employers, everyone gains.  Morale goes up. When work feels worthwhile because it’s more than a drudge, its quality improves.  Raising pay to a living wage would reduce the national benefits bill and boost the economy by stepping up workers’ spending power.  They would also be paying more tax, putting more money into the pot for health, education etc.  Surprise, surprise, doing what is right pays off!

Being paid the Living Wage can not only relieve money worries, it can also open up new opportunities.  Here’s what one worker found when their pay went up:

“Now I can manage my bills and transportation easier...  In London the cost of living is higher than the low paid jobs are being paid.”

“Being paid the higher wage means I can pay to go to college – I’m studying in the evenings to be a computer programmer.”

This week is Responsible Business Week.  Sponsored by Prince Charles’ charity Business in the Community, the purpose is to promote fairness and equality in the workplace.   Employers’ policies and practices need to include the whole workforce, not just a favoured few.

Increasing numbers of employers are catching on, but it’s still reckoned that there’s scope for an additional one million workers to be paid the Living Wage by 2020.  That leaves time to budget ahead and, if necessary to stagger increases.

The Living Wage Commission accepted that some small businesses, as well as retail and hotel industries could find it difficult to pay the Living Wage.  If they tried to do so under present circumstances, they might have to lay staff off.  So we didn’t want it made compulsory.

Of course that’s no excuse for others to duck the issue.  We must take seriously these words of Jesus Christ: “The worker deserves his wages.”  He treated people with respect.  We must do the same.

 

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