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Paying the Living Wage

Wednesday 30th March 2016

Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu writes in today's Times that many remain 'unconvinced' by the new 'national living wage' announced by the Chancellor George Osborne...


Last year, just after a certain supermarket announced their plans to pay a Living Wage, I overheard an interesting conversation in a different supermarket. The woman operating my till asked her colleague whether she would consider applying for a job with the Living Wage supermarket. She said no; she did not believe it was a real Living Wage,  they had simply found ways to dock wages elsewhere – such as no longer paying staff extra for working on a Sunday.

Like that checkout assistant, many of us remain unconvinced by Chancellor George Osborne packaging up what is essentially an increase on the National Minimum Wage for over 25s and rebranding it the “National Living Wage”. Of course it is to be welcomed that Mr Osborne is increasing wages at the bottom level for over 25s. But let’s call it what it is: a new legal minimum wage for over 25s. It is not a living wage in any real sense; it is not paying workers what they deserve and it is not paying workers what they need in order to achieve a decent standard of living in the UK.

The real Living Wage is set according to what experts and the public believe is needed to achieve an above-poverty standard of living. Not earning this can mean having to rely on a food bank even if you are in work. Let’s think about that for a second. Working people should not have to rely on food banks to feed their families.

The new minimum wage also risks setting young against old. There are two million under 25’s who will not benefit from the increased minimum wage. The realLiving Wage (as set by the Living Wage Foundation) makes no distinction for how old someone has to be to expect to be paid fairly for a day’s work.

For too long, businesses have settled for paying the legal minimum rather than rewarding staff with the wages they deserve. But things are starting to change. Over 2,300 employers have voluntarily signed up to the real Living Wage rates. These businesses have recognized that it is morally the right thing to do and have invested in their employees accordingly. 

The Christian faith makes a strong moral argument for paying the Living Wage. But if the moral argument does not sway bosses, perhaps the financial one will: companies who pay the Living Wage report higher levels of morale and lower levels of absenteeism.

Businesses do not exist in a vacuum, they have an important role to play in society.  Paying the Living Wage is a fast route to the kind of society the UK could become, a country where people are paid a fair day’s wage for a hard day’s work. No spin necessary.



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