An independent body which serves as a harmonising force uniting trade unions, businesses and the rest of society, has called upon government to radically reform worker pay.
The ëLiving Wage commission chairmaní and the Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu, stated that in being the greatest employer of low paid people, it is the governmentsí immediate concern to assess pay levels during recruitment. Mr Sentamu argued that this approach should be mirrored by private sector companies that are also financially capable of paying.
The government has defended their conduct, with Business Secretary Vince Cable outlining: “The only real way of achieving sustainable increases in living standards is by focusing on economic growth, employment and reducing taxes for the low paid. This is exactly what we are doing.”
However, official data regarding wages makes for interesting inferences. The UK living wage is valued at £7.65 an hour whilst the London living wage stands at an increased rate of £8.80 per hour, due to the higher cost of living in the exorbitant capital. By comparison, the national minimum wage lies at a modest £6.31 an hour.
This contradicts the commissionís definition of a living wage as ëthe minimum amount of money needed to enjoy a basic, but socially acceptable standard of livingí.
According to Sentamu: ìThe majority of people in poverty in the UK are workingî.
The report estimated that 5.2 million people currently earn less than the living wage, which adds weight to the above claim.
A year in the making, the report outlines the living wage commissionís disenchantment with the current state of wages.
However, there appears to be a government refusal to support clamour for a greater minimum wage that would add £2 an hour to workerís wages in London alone. Instead, the government has offered an alternate solution, supporting employersí right to their own choice regarding whether they pay a living wage or not, relying on economic growth and a greater sense of moral obligation within the employer to satisfy employee needs.
Data gathered by the commission showed that there are 712 employers across the UK recognised as paying a living wage.
Industries like banks and construction firms alone could enhance the pay of 375, 000 workers if they elect to implement the national living wage.
There has been uproar from civilians disillusioned with certain employerís payment methods.
Earlier this month, the GMB union scorned high street retailer, ëNextí, during a protest in Liverpool for paying £6.33 per hour to those aged 21 and over and £5.47 to those aged 18 to 20. Additionally, protests outside Brixtonís Ritzy cinema reached boiling point with members in and outside of the industry forming a chorus of dissent directed at the staffís adult minimum wage of £6.31 following its takeover by the mammoth ëCineworldí franchise.
“Working and still living in poverty is a national scandal,” said Archbishop Sentamu.
“For the first time, the majority of people in poverty in the UK are now in working households.
Understanding ëTough Period for Businessí
Following the recent economic downturn, it is conceivable that many businesses are growing financially again, though the countryís employers may not yet be in a position where they can afford to pay their employees anymore without cutting jobs or putting their cash flow forecasts at peril.
This viewpoint is taken up by Dr Adam Marshall, director of policy and external affairs at the British Chambers of Commerce, who called for support for employers after a ëtough period for business.í
Marshall argued that business should not have to ëface compulsion or regulationí as this could lead to ëjob losses and
difficultiesí within the industry. Rather, through support and encouragement, the living wage could be implemented.
However, at the moment it is not tenable given the current economic climate.
Marshall said: ìSome business simply cannot afford to pay a living wage just yet ñ which is why the commission rejected a compulsory living wageî.
The commission agreed that in certain sectors, such as retail, the living wage could be unfeasible to implement.
This non-committal response from the government will do nothing to soothe many workerís bitterness at what they consider to be eye-wateringly low wages.
Delegates of small businesses voiced their unease at the commissionís proposals, stating that a higher minimum wage would not be affordable for many within the industry.
Policy chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, Mark Cherry, said: ìAt least half of our members pay at or above the living wageî.
But many small businesses, such as those concerned with construction and retail, struggle to cope with the higher demands of the living wage.
Small business director, Glen Miller, of Antique Pine Imports in Chester stated: “I think if you’re able to pay, then you should. It just sends out the right message to the staff and the customers, and everybody feels more valued.”
However it is feared this languid approach from the government, which places faith in thrifty employerís hands, will not favour the majority of workers. Furthermore, it casts an ominous shadow over the Living Wage commissionís goal of ëcutting the number of low paid workers by one million by 2020í.