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by Kate Shannon
02 January 2015
Work to live: the living wage

Work to live: the living wage

According to figures from auditors KPMG, over 400,000 workers are being paid less than the living wage – £7.85 an hour – in Scotland. For Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance, this is completely unacceptable. 

“The numbers really should give us pause for thought and make us acknowledge we have to do something about it,” he told Holyrood

He added: “Research released in November found 414,000 workers in Scotland are being paid less than the living wage. That is no way to run an economy. It is almost 20 per cent of workers in Scotland. You can’t run a decent economy with one in five workers being low paid. 

“This suggests to me that it’s right the Scottish Government has put so much priority on this issue [recently] and other political parties are continuing to push the Government on this, that’s exactly what we need to do because those numbers are big and they are a drain on creating a more socially just Scotland.”

The Scottish Living Wage Campaign was launched in 2007 and is a collective of poverty activists, trade unions, faith groups and voluntary organisations and aims to raise awareness and support for the living wage north of the border. The Poverty Alliance provides admin and staff support to the campaign.

“A living wage means people in work shouldn’t have to rely on benefits. They shouldn’t have to rely on food banks. People in work deserve to have a wage which gives them dignity”

Kelly said he is happy the living wage has support across the political spectrum in Scotland. He added: “We have a general acceptance of the idea of the living wage and also an increased number of employers recognised as paying the living wage. It’s quite a difference to where we were seven years ago. 

“I think we’ve got to this stage thanks to good campaigning. We’ve been effective but it’s certainly not just about the campaign’s effectiveness, these issues have crystallised. The squeeze on people’s incomes, the cuts to in-work benefits, and the fact wages have been stagnating for the past three years, if not more, all of those things come together and the living wage provides part of an answer to what is seen as a growing problem of in-work poverty. 

“The political discussion about procurement and the role of procurement in relation to the living wage has been important. It has highlighted to the public sector issues around in-work poverty and that it doesn’t just stop at their own directly employed staff. The debates in the Scottish Parliament have also been important. It has given a profile to the issue that sometimes it wasn’t always possible to achieve. Even more importantly for us as an organisation, is getting the Scottish Living Wage Accreditation Initiative off the ground. This has seen us working in partnership with the Living Wage Foundation in London to get more employers in Scotland officially recognised. Over the past year that has been extremely important for us, it has allowed us to engage with employers in a way we’ve never been able to do before. 

“The Scottish Government has funded the initiative and has agreed to fund it again next year. It has allowed us to more than treble the number of officially accredited employers. By the end of the year we will be up to over 80, maybe even 90 accredited employers. That’s been extremely important and having those discussions with employers has allowed us to understand better, not just the benefits of the living wage but some of the challenges which exist for employers too. It gives us more to think about in terms of how we take forward the campaign and how it manages to reach more low paid workers.”

In November, the Scottish Living Wage Accreditation Initiative received an additional £200,000 of Scottish Government funding, bringing the total funding package to £280,000. The initiative aims to encourage employers to pay their staff the living wage and be accredited as doing so. It has been running in Scotland since April 2014.

At the start of December, Scottish Parliament Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick announced all contractor staff working at Holyrood would be guaranteed a living wage. The decision will mean all contractors, including catering and cleaning staff, employed at the Parliament will receive an hourly rate of at least £7.85 per hour from 1 January 2015. 

Marwick said: “I am delighted that – as an employer – the Parliament has moved to ensure the living wage guarantee now extends to all staff who work directly at the Parliament. The cost of meeting this commitment is relatively small in financial terms but is hugely symbolic to employees and employers alike. Ensuring that employees receive decent pay and conditions is the hallmark of a good employer and I hope that our decision will encourage other organisations across Scotland to make the same commitment to their staff.”

Labour’s Jackie Baillie MSP said the Scottish Government should promote better pay with a living wage strategy and a living wage unit.

She added: “Just a few months ago we asked the First Minister to support the living wage in all public sector contracts. She has the power to do so. It would guarantee a pay rise to workers in low paid jobs such as cleaning, catering and caring, the majority of whom are women. If Renfrewshire Council can agree this with their private care providers, surely the Government can do something too.

“But in 2014 alone, the SNP voted against the living wage no fewer than five times. The people of Scotland deserve better than that. Scottish Labour’s values are all about social justice, fairness and equality. We know by closing the gaps in education, in health and in the workplace we can build a better nation.”

Heart of Midlothian Football Club recently became the first football club in Scotland to become an officially accredited living wage employer. A spokesperson for the club said: “Heart of Midlothian Football Club is delighted to be given accreditation to become a living wage employer. The club feels that implementing the living wage is entirely in keeping with the values that we hold dear as Edinburgh’s oldest football club. Since revealing our intention to implement the living wage the club has received widespread backing from both our supporters and sponsors.”

What is next for the campaign? Kelly believes the 2016 General Election will provide an opportunity to raise awareness of the living wage with the UK Parliament. “Westminster needs to raise its game,” he added.   

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