A living wage is just the start

matthewbrownAnother living wage week is upon us and there is every reason to celebrate.  The living wage is very much in the nation’s consciousness with hundreds of thousands of employees now working for the 1000 organisations officially accredited as living wage employers across the country.

This includes a growing number in the FTSE 100 along with smaller employers, councils and other public and voluntary sector organisations.  The living wage brand is as well known as the Fair Trade brand and in a society where the richest 100 individuals have more wealth than the poorest 30% of households it remains as essential as ever.

But just over five years ago the concept was very much in its infancy.  As the proposer of a living wage motion in April 2008 to Preston Council – supported wholeheartedly by my colleagues in the then opposition Labour Group – it was only Oxford Council and the then mayor of London Ken Livingstone who proceeded us in supporting it at a political level.  The motion returned to full council in December that year and was adopted following a knife edge vote.

The resistance from many quarters to the living wage back then reminds me of Tony Benn’s quote about any kind of social progress: ‘First they ignore you, then they say you’re mad, then dangerous, then there’s a pause and you can’t find anyone who disagrees with you.’ Luckily with the living wage we are heading towards the latter with all mainstream parties embracing it and the current level of support showing how it has spread and spread quickly.

In Preston, I have been privileged enough to be the cabinet member responsible for promoting the living wage across our city since Labour took control of the council in May 2011.  The response has been more positive than I could have ever imagined.  We were proud to become the first officially accredited employer by the Living Wage Foundation in the north of England in 2012.

We want government to give each local authority area

the power to introduce a supplement to the living wage level

We have brought the living wage into many of our contractual arrangements including our agency staff, with over 500 council employees and contracted workers benefiting since its introduction.  We have established our own accreditation scheme with nearly 40 local employers signing up and, crucially, most of our placed-based institutions are joining us in our living wage journey.  This includes Lancashire Council who are moving towards official accreditation and who recently signed Unison’s ethical care charter which will support the living wage for care workers across Lancashire who often have difficulty receiving the basic minimum wage.

This has meant Preston’s achievements in this field were acknowledged by the TUC this year, with Preston in the top 10% of local authority areas in the north-west for part-time female employees receiving the living wage or above with the living wage a gender equality issue as well as a socio-economic one.

However, we don’t want to stop there. We are examining best practice by larger authorities like Birmingham and Islington to expand the living wage to supply contracts and we will use our influence as a member of the Lancashire pension fund.

We are the first local authority in the country to begin to shift our own investments to local and sustainable economics by backing the Move Your Money campaign in which the living wage is likely to feature. But our most exciting proposal is to seek to join with other authorities to submit a proposal under the sustainable communities act and lobby government to give each local authority area the power to introduce a supplement to the living wage level with the aim of ensuring everyone within that area receives it.

The recent debate in the Scottish independence referendum and the promise of further devolved powers shows this is the correct time to seize the moment to give communities the right to deliver a resounding ‘no’ to poverty pay in the absence of the refusal of the Westminster elite to increase the minimum wage to the living wage level nationally.

Maybe suggesting taking the living wage that far at this stage will be viewed by some as ‘mad and dangerous’ but with the progress the living wage movement has made in the last five years who knows what the next five will have in store.


Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
9 years ago

Does your work with contractors extend to social care providers whose workers are often on zero hour contracts, 15 minute visits and no payment for driving time, whose lot is being looked at by the living wage foundation?

Matthew Brown
Matthew Brown
9 years ago

Peter – thanks for your comments. In Preston we are a district council albeit one of the larger ones in Lancashire so operate in a two tier system. As a district we don’t commission zero hour contracts but also do not procure social care. As the article states Lancashire County Council recently signed UNISON’s ethical care charter which is based on a similar model to that of the living wage foundation.

Help us break the news – share your information, opinion or analysis
Back to top