Local authorities must lead the way on the living wage

Source: PSE Dec/Jan 16

Cllr Andy Hull, executive member for finance and performance at the London Borough of Islington, explains why the council is determined to stick by the principles of the Living Wage even at a time of budget cuts.

Across the UK, more than one in five workers earns less than the real Living Wage – a pay packet independently calculated according to the basic cost of living, with a higher rate in London. They deserve a pay rise that is predicated not on any performance targets but on the principle that no-one should have to do a hard day’s work for less than they can live on. 

Reflecting this principle, Islington Council launched its own Living Wage campaign in 2011, following a recommendation from our groundbreaking Fairness Commission. Despite the popular stereotype of Islington as a wealthy place, our borough is actually one of the most deprived local authority areas in the country, with high rates of unemployment. 

The Islington Fairness Commission was set up to look into how we can tackle poverty and reduce inequality to make our borough a fairer place to live and work. Its top recommendation was for Islington to push towards becoming a Living Wage place. Less than a year later, we became the (joint) first council to be accredited as a Living Wage employer. 

It’s the principle 

In an age of government austerity, whittled-down budgets, and relentless funding cuts, political principles matter. While it is the football clubs and FTSE companies that are regularly in the media spotlight for failing to pay their backroom staff enough, the principle of a fair day’s pay should be applied in councils and in charities as much as it should in corporations.

In November, Islington Council became the first local authority in the country to be officially recognised by the Living Wage Foundation as a Living Wage Friendly Funder – ensuring all the charities and voluntary organisations we fund through our core grants programme pay the Living Wage to their staff. 

Each year, Islington provides some 43 charities and voluntary organisations with £3.2m in core grants. We do so on the condition that they pay all their employees at least the Living Wage. Each year, we also encourage all grant-funded, not-for-profit organisations to become accredited as Living Wage employers themselves and to promote the Living Wage in their sector. 

A real difference 

Putting these principles into practice means councils must put their money where their mouth is. That is easier said than done at a time of unprecedented government cuts. At Islington Council, our government funding has been cut in half since 2010, and yet 100% of our directly employed staff and 98% of our contracted staff now receive at least the London Living Wage, including our 519 homecare workers. They say it has made a real difference. Moreover, our homecare providers’ managers say that paying staff a proper wage leads to better performance, retention, and morale. This stands in stark contrast to some in the care industry who insist that paying even the government’s new minimum wage spells doom for the sector. 

We want every worker in Islington to earn a fair day’s pay. But we cannot achieve this vision alone. Islington’s success story is one of a whole community coming together and a council seeking to exert influence outside its immediate authority through civic leadership. With the help of our public sector partners, local charities and businesses, we now have over 90 accredited Living Wage employers in the borough – one of the highest concentrations in the country. 

We need to make the Living Wage a reality for workers nationwide. If fair pay for a day’s work is a principle that we, as councils, can all agree on, then, after talking about tackling the scourge of working poverty, we need to walk the walk.



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