Calls for employers to adopt the “living wage”—£8.80 an hour in London and £7.65 in the rest of the UK—are growing louder. Based on the basic cost of living, it is adopted voluntarily by businesses and is intended to raise living standards for low paid workers. But is it the best way to achieve this?by Kayte Lawton / January 23, 2014 / Leave a comment
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Kayte Lawton is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research
Ryan Bourne is head of economic research at the Centre for Policy Studies
I could make any number of rational and moral arguments for the living wage but I think it’s best to start with a simple message from someone who knows about life in low pay Britain. Valdemar Ventura was disciplined by his employer for leaving a letter on Nick Clegg’s desk asking to be paid a living wage for his work as a cleaner at Downing Street. “I just would like enough to give my family a life,” said Valdemar.
This simple statement evokes the call for self-sufficiency and personal responsibility at the heart of the living wage. Valdemar isn’t asking for more tax credits or a hand-out—he wants a decent wage so that he can provide for his family through hard work.
Trade unions and community associations like London Citizens are trying to make this a reality for workers in Britain. The living wage relies on political and community leadership but also on compromises between campaigners and employers.
For people working in low-wage jobs in cleaning, catering, care and retail, achieving a living wage should be just the start. While the living wage is a step up from the minimum wage, currently £6.31 an hour across the UK, it’s still a low rate of pay and many living wage employees will find that their work continues to lack the respect it deserves. There’s no perfect measure of a “living wage” that suits all families and individuals. But living wage movements offer a practical way for low-wage workers to seek a better deal—and given the extent of powerlessness and low pay in parts of Britain’s workforce, this is something we should all embrace.
Emotive campaigns with simple themes are often successful. The “living wage” concept, that everyone should be paid well enough to afford a basic standard of living for themselves and their families, is no exception. After all, who could be so heartless as to support a non-“living wage”?
We’d all like to see increased prosperity and rising wages for those on low incomes. The mistake the left makes is to assume this can be decreed without consequence through either legislation (minimum wage) or cajoling…