The Living Wage Commission


The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu writes in The Observer on the importance of the living wage. His article in full follows...

Today, millions of people across the UK will get up, leave their families and travel to work to carry out jobs we all depend on. They'll care for people, serve us food, clean the spaces we all use and share. They'll do more than a fair day's work, but they won't get a fair day's pay.

The scale of low pay in Britain is a national scandal. Come pay day, five million people won't have been paid a rate high enough to live on. Just think about that. Five million people who give their time, their skills and their energy to perform jobs, many of which we all depend on, but don't get paid enough by their employers to even get by. That means not enough money to heat their homes, or feed their family, or plan for a rainy day.

The consequences for so many people and their families are devastating. Women, as the majority of low paid workers in this country, are particularly hard hit. Low pay threatens the great strides that have been made in gender equality in recent decades by undermining women's economic independence. This is a huge loss for them and for society as a whole.

So far, all Governments have just been applying a sticking plaster to the crisis of low pay. The holes in millions of pay cheques are being plugged by in-work support to the tune of £4bn a year. But why aren't those who are profiting from their workers paying up? Why is Government having to subsidise businesses who don't pay their employees enough to live on? It is a question we need to answer and act on - fast. The cost of living is rising, but wages are not. In the rush for profit, and high pay at the top, too many companies have forgotten the basic moral imperative that employees be paid enough to live on. So how do we resurrect that imperative?

The Living Wage: three words that provide hope of an alternative. Championed by community groups across the country, it is a deceptively simple idea. A wage rate set to ensure a basic but acceptable standard of living. Over the past decade workers, trade unionists and campaigners at Citizens UK and the Living Wage Foundation have seized on this idea and driven it into mainstream Westminster policy debates.  Because of their tireless efforts, 284 businesses have adopted the Living Wage, currently set at £8.55 in London and £7.45 throughout the rest of the UK. Around 45,000 people have seen their pay cheque boosted as a result.

Politicians have started to sing the praises of the Living Wage too. Ed Miliband called it "an idea whose time has come". Mayor of London Boris Johnson said, "A fair and decent wage for Londoners is critical if the capital is to remain diverse, inclusive and prosperous.", while David Cameron has described it as a "good and attractive idea". I agree. Of course, at the end of the day though, what workers really need is pay, not platitudes. The reality is that despite warm words, too few companies have stepped up to the mark. For the vast majority of low paid people in the UK, the Living Wage remains an abstract concept, not a description of their pay rate. 

That has to change. But how? That is what the Living Wage Commission I will be chairing over the next 12 months will set out to uncover. Alongside colleagues from business, trade unions and civil society, we will investigate the future of the Living Wage. What is the full potential of the Living Wage to both change peoples' lives and change the way we do business?  What are the barriers to companies adopting the Living Wage - and how could we surmount them?

To answer those questions, we need to have a national conversation about low pay in Britain.

If you yourself are paid less than the Living Wage, I want to hear from you. If you are a business who is considering the Living Wage, or who thinks it would be untenable to adopt, I want to hear from you too. By mapping the potential of the Living Wage, and facing the challenging questions about implementation head on, I believe we can not only build fairer workplaces, we can help build a just and good society. Join me.