Thursday, 8 November 2012

Living Wage and dignity

One of my favourite Bob Dylan songs is 'Dignity' - how every person needs and is searching for dignity. Dignity includes the right to respect and to be treated fairly, its sums up universal human rights and social justice in a single word.
This week is Living Wage week and I'm very happy to be supporting a Blog Action Day today in support of the Living Wage campaign because it's a campaign for dignity. The Living Wage is £7.45 an hour outside London compared to the statutory Minimum Wage of £6.19 an hour for people aged over 21. Quite simply it is the difference between having just enough for a decent life or not enough. The difference between being treated with respect or not.
Annual salary on Minimum Wage - £11,909
Annual salary on Living Wage - £14,334
Annual UK average salary - £21,330
Over 60% of children living in poverty in the north east are in working families, that is why Children North East supports the Living Wage because it would relieve the pressure on parents trying to get by on very strained budgets and would open out opportunities for their children - things like being able to afford winter coats, or to go swimming, or have a birthday party. The Living Wage can mean the difference between parents needing several jobs and so able to spend more time with their children.

The Living Wage campaign started 11 years ago in East London; in an article in The Guardian last Saturday David Milliband estimates 1 million people have been lifted out of in-work poverty during that time with no loss of jobs. The campaign is supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Save the Children, KPMG and Aviva amongst others. All Children North East staff are paid above the Living Wage but we have contracts with cleaning companies who do not, we are in discussion with those businesses to persuade them to pay the Living Wage too.

The Living Wage is voluntary but support is growing, just this week Newcastle City Council announced it had become a Living Wage employer and urged other employers to follow their example. Part of Newcastle's commitment is to ensure they only procure services from organisations paying the Living Wage, so it makes good business sense for any organisation wanting to do business with the council to be a Living Wage employer.

5 million workers in the UK are paid below the Minimum Wage, that's 1 in 5 of all workers. The benefit system pays out £4 billion a year on in 'in-work support' for people on low incomes, that would be much reduced if employers paid the Living Wage and therefore good for taxpayers too. The New Statesman this week supports a recommendation by the Resolution Foundation that listed companies should be required to report how many employees are paid less than the Living Wage. That information plus Director's salaries would highlight the gap between best and least well paid and invite businesses to reduce that ratio. That would be another advance in reducing income inequality.

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