While all indicators point to a strong economic recovery in Britain, people still aren’t feeling it. We have paid the price of inequality for recovery with food banks on the rise despite unemployment figures dropping. Simply put, businesses are reluctant to match the cost of living in the UK.
Today’s announcement that the Living Wage is set to rise to £7.85 should be a welcomed bit of news, but it’s hard not to feel a little bitter sweet. Although 35,000 low-paid workers will receive an extra 20p an hour at participating firms, the largely symbolic gesture was only announced after a study had revealed that 5.2 million people, or 22 per cent of the workforce, are paid less than the Living Wage and struggle to keep up with rising living costs and inflation.
The legally-enforcable national minimum wage is currently 21 per cent lower than the national Living Wage at £6.50 per hour for adults over 21. This pitiful level is what had the staff at the Rixy Cinema in a furore, campaigning successfully for the cinema chain to firstly pay the Living Wage and then curtailing redundancies when said company spitefully threatened to cut the workforce.
But as Luke Massay argued today in the New Statesman: “A thin façade of a commitment to equity is belied by a refusal to genuinely embed the principle of paying workers a wage on which they can maintain a decent standard of living.
“In that dichotomy lies the problem, and also the solution. The pressure which businesses feel – to be seen to be doing the right thing – is already there: and turning it up is the key.”
The independently set Living Wage is levied according to the basic cost of living in the UK. Of the 1,000 or so employees that pay the rate, three-quarters of them reported increases in quality of their work.
Rhys Moore, director of the Living Wage Foundation, said “firms that pay the minimum wage are seeing their workers’ pay topped up through the benefits system”.
He added that “rewarding a hard day’s work with a fair day’s pay” was the core principle of the Living Wage. Is it time for businesses to listen up?