Social housing can play a key role in reducing in-work poverty. In doing so not only will they be helping those who work for them but also the communities in which they operate.
So it turns out if you pay your staff a decent wage not only do they increase their productivity but their reliance on the state might also reduce. Who wudda thunk it? The JRF has recently been releasing a number of blogs/research pieces highlighting that whilst some progress is being made a large minority are being left behind. Worst still for the state assistance is state dependency brigade this is impacting our welfare payments. Those of you who have even only occasionally read my blogs will have noticed a recurring graph. This is the one relating to those housing benefit claimants who are in work. This graph has inexorably been moving up. However, unlike Yazz and the Plastic Population up isn’t the only way (baby).
There have been a number of reports, largely from the centre left that highlight the absurd situation where the market is able to pay crap wages because the state will subsidise it. The damage this causes has been known for a while, 5 years ago the JRF released a research piece into the damaging cycles of low-pay-no-pay (another piece I crack out from time to time). The simple point is this, yes employment has increased in terms of number but like many things this is not just a simple numbers game. It is the quality of the jobs, and the pay that goes with them, that is key here. Unfortunately we are being found severely wanting in this regard.
I have previously called for social landlords to put both their money and their ideals where their mouths are on this subject. A quick look at the Living Wage Foundation’s website will show that a number of housing associations are already doing so. But given that there are over 1,500 in the country and the foundation has 1,218 businesses/organisations signed up more need to pull their finger out. You cannot state that you work to better the lives of the communities you operate in without looking after your own community of workers as well. A guaranteed Living Wage isn’t the be all and end all, but it is a start.
The Living Wage, according to the Foundation that takes its name from the notion, is £7.85 outside of London, £9.15 inside. That equates to £14,695.20 and £17,128.80 per year respectively. If as an organisation you can’t guarantee to pay that, or at least the pro-rata equivalent, then I’m sorry but you have no business being a social landlord. I’m not saying that you chase yet another standard to pin on the bottom of your letterheads. But God knows as sector we chase awards like kids at a sweet shop. Why not chase something that has some benefit other than inflating ego?
The benefits to both business and employees are pretty hefty. For businesses absenteeism, staff turnover and productivity all improve whilst reputation is also enhanced. Employees feel more loyal to their employer, are (again) more productive and have a better psychological wellbeing. Invest in your staff, reap the benefits.
Please don’t take this as a slap down to the sector. I am highly aware (and appreciative) of the very generous employment packages the sector puts together for its workers. Having worked both in the Private and 3rd Sector spheres it is always refreshing to see how much time and effort housing associations and their peers put into staff development. I am also keenly aware that many social landlords do pay something akin or even above the Living Wage at the bottom end of their pay scales. But this is a simple, but significant, way of protesting against general poor pay whilst having a positive impact closer to home. As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words.