Executive Leader Cllr Kieran Quinn

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Councillor Kieran Quinn

Ending the Scourge of Working Poverty

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Here’s a quick brain-teaser to start off the day. What do the following numbers and percentages mean when it comes to pay in modern Britain: 150,000, £7.50, £10.20, £8.75, 4.6%, 3.6%, 66%.

150,000 is the number of workers nationwide who received an inflation beating pay rise last week. It’s no secret that the current “National Living Wage” of £7.50 an hour for over 25s is anything but. That’s why the Resolution Foundation think tank took matters into their own hands by running their own calculations to find how much it costs to live a normal life in Britain, covering everything from rent, household goods, transport and inflation. They concluded that the real living wage was £10.20 for London and £8.75 for the rest of the country. Based on their work, the Living Wage Foundation encourages businesses to voluntarily pay their employees the real living wage.

Monday last week was the beginning of Living Wage Week, the week where the annual recalculation of the living wage takes place (For the record, it’s gone up by 4.6% in London and 3.6% in the rest of the country, largely as a result of inflation). During Living Wage Week,  the opportunity is also taken to praise those businesses that have signed up to the living wage and shine a light on those who continue to refuse to do so. Unfortunately, 66% of the FTSE 100 companies, including giants like British Petroleum, BT, Vodaphone and Shell, still hold back on providing their workers a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

It may say more about the government’s failure to tackle the problem than anything else, but the fact remains that the work of the Living Wage Foundation is, and remains, one of the most successful weapons we have in the fight against the scourge of working poverty. One in every eight workers in the UK – 3.8 million people – is officially in poverty. A total of 7.4 million people, including 2.6 million children, are in poverty despite being in a working family. This means that over half of those in poverty belong to working households. Make no mistake, when the history of 21st century Britain is written, the fact that so many families could not make ends meet despite their hard work will go down as one of the darkest and most shameful chapters.

It should be noted as well that local government is by no means innocent in this either. While many authorities, including Tameside, have committed to become Living Wage employers one in ten council workers are still paid below the living wage. That’s why as part of our follow-up to Living Wage Week I make this call to the government, make the funds available to allow all councils to become accredited Living Wage employers. UNISON estimates that this simple act would lift more than 60,000 of the lowest paid public sector workers out of poverty. It wouldn’t solve all our problems, but it would be one heck of a start.

Make no mistake; the kind of working poverty we’re seeing doesn’t happen by itself. It’s the result of conscious decisions. Businesses ask themselves: Do we increase the pay of our workers or our executives; do we reinvest our profits or squirrel it away in tax havens? Governments ask themselves: Do we legislate for a minimum wage you can live on or for another cut in corporation tax; do we listen to the people or do we listen to paid-up lobbyists? For too long, too many have given the wrong answers to those questions. The work of the Living Wage Foundation and those which support it give me hope that another, better answer is possible.  

Posted by: Kieran Quinn

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