A Living Wage Now!

As the Leicester Mercury ‘revealed’ in their article “Living wage ‘benefits firms’” (Mercury, June 2), many gains accrue to businesses who pay their workers fairly. Yet in the Mercury’s brief summary of a Loughborough University report on this matter, one benefit remained unmentioned, that is, Living Wage bosses can sleep at night with an easy conscience, safe in the knowledge that their employees are paid enough to “meaningfully participate in society.”

Another side-benefit of firms paying a fair-days-pay for a fair-days-worth of profit-making is that an employee who can comfortably pay their rent, bills, and fill their families bellies, will usually be a more productive worker.

Unfortunately the Living Wage bug has yet to really catch on. As of May 2015, only 1,500 of the 5.2 million private sector businesses in the UK have been accredited by the Living Wage Foundation. And while some in the business community continue to complain that raising the wages of the poorest workers in society will only cause problems for everyone (by which they really mean their shareholders), the evidence contradicts such nay-saying.

For example, the Loughborough University researchers note how, “Throughout the 15 years that the Low Pay Commission has supervised the uprating of the UK Minimum Wage, it has found no evidence of significant negative employment effects.” The opposite may in fact be true, and the authors of the report draw attention to a publication produced by a former New Labour economist, which suggested “that the net fiscal benefits derived from implementing the Living Wage universally would be of £1.5 billion, which, through a multiplier effect, would increase GDP by £3.15 billion”. Moreover, this far from radical author, went so far as to estimate “employment effects of between 45,000 jobs lost and 58,000 jobs gained.”

Such hard statistics mean nothing to some bosses; such that the owner of locally-based clothing retailer, Next, has claimed that £6.70-an-hour was “enough to live on,” and has vocally criticised those calling for firms to pay staff a Living Wage. Yet owing to the limited working hours his 50,000 or so staff are given, shockingly, most Next staff must claim in-work benefits to make ends meet.

Earlier this week, Martin Smith, the National Organizer of the GMB — the union which represents Next workers — explained in the Mercury how Next staff are forced to “feel they are constantly grovelling to managers [for extra hours] to stay in their good books – for fear of losing hours the next week.” (Mercury, June 1)

“Flexible wages,” he argued, “without flexible landlords, pay day loan companies and utility bills are impossible to live on.” This is why I for one support the GMB’s call to raise the minimum wage to a Living Wage of £7.85, as but a first step towards a £10 per hour Living Wage. If $15 per hour is good enough for workers in Seattle, America, then £10 should do for us.

Letter sent to the Leicester Mercury mailbox on 2nd June.

living wage

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