Paying The Living Wage - The Litmus Test Of A Fair Recovery.


The Archbishop writes in The Guardian Online on seizing the opportunity to build a brighter future for the millions of forgotten workers who are struggling to make ends meet by paying a Living Wage. 

When people make political interventions, they are often about death. Not about the death of people, but the death of old ideas, old systems, old structures.

Many interesting reports are released each year highlighting the unpleasant, counterproductive things going on in the world. They often end with a call to arms, 'something must be done about this', they say, or 'this must be stopped'.

Such interventions frequently focus on the darkness in society, yet what is often missing is the illumination of what might spring up in its place, and a picture of what a brighter future might look like. The final report of the Living Wage Commission, published today, paints a picture of a better future for over one million of the lowest paid people in the UK, and provides a blueprint for how we make this happen.

I have had the great pleasure of chairing the Independent Living Wage Commission over the past year. Leading representatives from business, trade unions, civil society and academia have come together to look at the state of low pay in the UK. And crucially, we looked at what we can do about it: how we can build a brighter future for those hard-pressed people who are working hard yet struggling to make ends meet.

Our interim report, released in February this year, fitted the description of the deathly intervention almost perfectly. It set out the big problems low pay provides for our society and our economy. For the first time, the majority of people in poverty in the UK are working. One in every five workers are paid less than they need to meet the rising cost of living. Billions of pounds of public money are being spent on in-work benefits to top up low incomes. The report told a tale of stagnant wages, poor productivity, and weak demand in the economy. It painted a grim picture of Britain today, one where working people are increasingly turning up to food banks in their lunch breaks to put food on the table for their family. We had established the problem.

Our final report, published today, provides a blueprint for bringing over one million hard-pressed employees out of low pay. We looked at the campaigns run by community organisers, London Citizens and Citizens UK, in workplaces across the country that have brought thousands out of low pay, and asked, 'how can we persuade employers who have the ability to pay to rise to the challenge of doing so that their low-paid employees are taken out of the low pay trap?’

We spoke to employees brought up to a Living Wage who told us about being able to put their children to bed at night instead of working all hours to put food on the table. We spoke to Living Wage employers who reported productivity increases and higher staff morale. We spoke to experts and academics who identified the industries which are more able to pay a Living Wage, and those in which employers might struggle.

Our resulting recommendations, based on rigorous analysis of the evidence and consultations with employers, low paid workers and experts, paint a brighter future of what we can achieve. It involves a supportive role for government - paying a Living Wage to all directly employed public sector staff, and championing it in the private sector. It involves a challenge to responsible businesses to consider the benefits of paying a Living Wage, and an injection of power to the elbow of the community campaigns that have won a Living Wage in over 700 workplaces so far.

The secret to getting more employers to pay a Living Wage without any adverse effects on the economy will be one of encouragement and celebration, of shining a light on the wellsprings of a new, better society. We have emerged from one of the longest recessions in recent memory. There is increasing confidence of what we as a country can achieve over the coming years. Over 700 employers have shown what responsible business practice means - paying a Living Wage to all their staff. It is time for the rest to follow. And UK governments need to be at the front of the pack.

The recession is moving further into history. Let us make sure we seize this opportunity to build a brighter future for the millions of forgotten workers who are struggling to make ends meet. Let us make coverage of the Living Wage the litmus test of a fair recovery.