The Scottish Parliament’s Local Government and Regeneration Committee is “broadly supportive” of the campaign for a living wage.
A report published today by the committee recognises the complex range of factors, including local and economic circumstances, which can present difficulties to councils seeking to introduce the living wage.
The committee also welcomed the innovative approaches used in some areas to deliver the living wage but agreed that decisions on whether it should be introduced in local government are for councils to make.
Committee convener Joe FitzPatrick MSP said: “It is currently estimated that around 550,000 employees in Scotland are paid earnings below the living wage. Whilst the living wage can help to tackle poverty in work, it is not a panacea. We heard evidence on the potential for those who would receive it to lose out on other benefits – and from businesses concerned it could make companies less competitive and affect their bottom lines.
“Importantly, our committee also acknowledges that the issue is wider than the moral imperative of the living wage. Local authorities are autonomous bodies that are not accountable either to the Scottish Parliament or the Scottish Government. Although most members of the committee would like to see the living wage paid in more councils, we recognise that it is a matter for councils themselves to decide, taking account of the local circumstances.”
The Scottish Government and its agencies, the NHS and seven local authorities are already paying the living wage. These are Glasgow City Council, West Dunbartonshire Council, East Renfrewshire Council, North Ayrshire Council, South Lanarkshire Council, Scottish Borders Council and Dumfries and Galloway Council.
The living wage is a voluntary arrangement that has developed as a result of a national campaign and is distinct from the national minimum wage, which is a UK-wide minimum wage. The current UK living wage outside London is set at £7.20.
Figures from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings show a higher percentage of employees in the private sector Scotland earned less than £7.20 per hour in 2011, than employees in the public sector. In relation to gender, a higher percentage of females earned less than £7.20 per hour in 2011 compared to males.
The committee’s report also comments on innovative approaches that have been adopted in some local authority areas where the councils and the relevant trade unions have negotiated a settlement that delivered efficiency savings for the council as part of a package of measures that also delivered the living wage.