It is alas that time of the year again when the devout believers make their yearly pilgrimage to the conference of their preferred cult/party. For the most part they are non-events, apart from when the keynote speaker forgets a good chunk of his speech. Or if the party in question is UKIP. When they are in town I like to play the game of how many quasi-xenophobic and/or sexist gaffes can one party make in a day.
Out of Labour’s conference has come the announcement of wanting to push the minimum wage up to £8. This is a step in the right direction. But, when you look at the details, it is not enough. The rising cost of living is a one of the few areas that Labour has scored well in and this is definitely an attempt to score more brownie points with the electorate. Regrettably, as often there are, the caveats water-down the announcement. Any rise will happen “by the end of the next parliament”. So probably 5 years away. Businesses are already making sucked teeth noises, meaning some loopholes may apply. It is heartening however to hear a mainstream party recognise that wages are not where they should be and people are feeling the pinch.
Having worked in enough bars, restaurants, pubs, warehouses and factories to ensure I’m never working in such jobs again I can assure you a ‘minimum’ wage is sweet f@*k all. My time on the character-buildingly-low wage was manageable because I was at home or studying at uni. The fact I was on minimum wage, zero-to-very-low hour contracts didn’t matter because my rent payment wasn’t contingent on it. This is not the case for millions of people, who are very much in this situation. You only have to look at the sharp rise of those in work and receiving housing benefit to see the consequences of that. For many the state is now effectively indirectly subsidising poor pay from private, public and third sector organisations alike. Whilst work does pay, and often more than a purely benefit-provided income, for many it does not pay enough. Hell when even the Daily Telegraph is noting that the cost of living is outstripping wage increases something is definitely amiss.
Borrowed Chart 1 – Pay Growth v CPI Inflation
I would argue that as social landlords we have a duty to provide a living wage (rather than just a minimum wage) to our employees. Given all those massive surpluses out there I’m sure we could find a bob or two to cover the uplift in pay required. More fundamentally it is about bringing home the work we do in the communities we serve. You cannot espouse the need to support those on low/no income and the vulnerable without ensuring your own staff aren’t being swept aside by the same tide. Poor pay is just as damaging as no pay and as progressive employers (in my experience only M&S have come close to offering as good employment T&Cs as social landlords) we have a duty that our staff can actually pay their bills.
Don’t be fooled, the minimum wage is just that – a bare minimum, combined with poor terms and conditions it can leave those in work trapped in poverty. If you have the time I suggest reading the JRF’s contribution on this subject. As ever it is insightful, thoughtful and to the point.
Whilst a sizeable number of social landlords already pay equivalent to the living wage (as opposed to minimum wage), more need to follow suit. If not for anything but to show that successful businesses can afford to pay a fair, living wage to their employees. Charity they say often begins at home, I suggest we take this notion when it comes to pay as well.