Nov 8, 2012

England’s serious debate about living wages


I was in London for the last week and I was amazed to see what a big issue the idea of paying people a living wage has become there. The living wage, as opposed to the minimum wage, is based on what a family needs to have the essentials of life.

Last week a KPMG study found one in five workers in the UK were paid less than the living wage.

The study compared industries and found 90 per cent or bar staff were paid less than the living wage. By sheer number the largest group paid less were sales and retail assistants. Nearly 800,000 were paid less than the living wage. And these people were hardest hit by current economic problems.

The story went viral and was carried heavily by virtually ever media outlet.

The BBC reported that the leader of the Labour Party was committed to only offering government contracts to firms that paid a living wage.

The Guardian reported that London’s Conservative Mayor called on the Conservative Primer Minister to pay all public employees at least the living wage. The Telegraph also carried the story about London’s Mayor. They carried another story two days later disagreeing with the idea. The Mirror and the Sunday Times also caried stories.

This week the hourly rate which experts say is needed for a decent standard of living went up 25p to £7.45, or £8.55 in London. In London the living wage is determined by the Greater London Authority. Announcing the London rise, Tory Mayor Boris Johnson said even “some of the most red-blooded capitalist firms you can imagine” had realised paying workers decent wages improves performance.

The idea of a living wage is certainly not universally accepted here but it is solidly on the public agenda.