A living wage

“Paying a decent wage for our workers is a sign that as a nation – publicly, privately, corporately and individually – we recognise the unique contribution of others to the common good.”

The Archbishop together with Julia Unwin CBE Chief Executive of Joseph Rowntree Foundation /Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust launched the UK Living Wage in November 2012.

The UK Living Wage is calculated by the Centre of Research in Social Policy and is based on work on Minimum Income Standards, carried out over four years by the JRF. (In November 2012 for the launch, it was announced that the rate for the UK outside of London as £7.45. Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, announced the new rate for London as £8.55). The latest living wage rates and national minimum rates can be found here

The Living Wage rate is designed so that recipients have a basic quality of life for themselves and their families. 

The Living Wage Commission 

In July 2013, it was announced that the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, was to chair an independent Commission on the future of the Living Wage. Bringing together leading figures from business, trade unions and civil society, Commissioners investigated what potential the increasingly popular concept of a Living Wage holds for Britain's five million low paid workers. 

The Living Wage - a wage rate set to ensure a basic but acceptable standard of living - has gained increasing prominence in policy circles over the past decade. 

Working, and still living in poverty, is a national scandal. For the first time, the majority of people in poverty in the UK are now in working households. The campaign for a Living Wage has been a beacon of hope for the millions of workers on low wages struggling to make ends meet. If the government now commits to making this hope a reality, we can take a major step towards ending the strain on all of our consciences. Low wages equals living in poverty.

Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, Chair of the Living Wage Commission

The final report 'Work Must Pay' of the independent Living Wage Commission reported that the number of people in low pay in the UK could be slashed by over 1 million by 2020 with a series of pragmatic low-cost measures building on the economic recovery.  It concludes that:

  • More than 1 million people can be lifted out of low pay by 2020, with research indicating this will have no adverse economic consequences
  • The cost of increasing the pay of nearly 500,000 public sector employees to the Living Wage could be more than met by higher tax revenues and reduced in-work benefits from over 600,000 private sector employees also brought up to the Living Wage
  • Professional service firms, like accountancy and consultancy companies, have nearly 300,000 low-wage staff who could be paid the Living Wage by 2020, and the banking and construction industries could pay the Living Wage to 75,000 employees with an increase to their wage bills of less than 0.5%
  • This extension of the Living Wage depends on the government adopting an explicit goal to increase the voluntary take-up of the Living Wage to at least 1 million more employees by 2020
  • The measures for the government to encourage such a transition include requiring all publicly listed companies to publish the number of people paid below a Living Wage.

The Commission warned that, if the government does not support the voluntary extension of coverage of the Living Wage, some working families will continue to rely on emergency measures, such as food banks and unsustainable debt, to get by. Currently 5.2 million people earn less than the Living Wage and the majority of people in poverty are now in working households.

However, the Commission did not recommended the introduction of a compulsory Living Wage, warning that the increased wage bill would not be affordable for some firms in some sectors, such as retail and hospitality, and for many small firms.

According to the Commission, a Living Wage for the lowest-paid staff can lead to increased productivity, reduced staff turnover and improved morale.

The final report 'Work Must Pay' of the independent Living Wage Commission, and to read the Archbishop's speech - read more 

Universal Credit 

In October 2017, the Archbishop called for an honest and courageous evaluation of the way the principle of Universal Credit is working in practice.  Writing in the Sunday Times: 'In the Bible, the hardest-pressed of all poor people were summarised as ‘widows and orphans’ for they were the group most at risk and with least support.  Our concern should be for their present-day successors whose essential outgoings are costing more and more and their incomes standing still or going down.  They fear Universal Credit, particularly because it seems to assume that everyone has a nest egg which will tide them over as they wait a minimum of 42 days for payouts.  That is grotesquely ignorant, for millions of people, especially those in need of support, are already in debt and have nothing to fall back on.  If their rental payments lapse, they are at risk of eviction.  That means, in the case of families with young children, an additional burden for their local Council, who are obliged to house them, and whose resources are already stretched to breaking point.  Some tenants have taken out short-term loans at excessive interest rates, because that seemed the only way out of their ’42 day' dilemma. So the repayment of capital and interest on those loans becomes the first call on any payment they receive.  It’s a downward spiral.  Housing Associations will testify that tenants on Universal Credit can be long overdue with their rent, solely because the ’42 days’ has become four months or more. Cutting waiting times until first payments are received must be a priority for the Government: cut the weeks from six, to four, to three?'

To read his article in full