IT has been fascinating watching the flurry of activity on Twitter marking Living Wage Week 2017 and encouraging to see the wide spectrum of companies joining in to promote the benefits of being a Living Wage employer.
It has been interesting too, to see the differences between the “Living Wage” and the “National Living Wage” explained to a wider audience.
As Living Wage Week draws to a close I want to take one final opportunity to highlight those differences and give abit of background.
The Scottish Living Wage Accreditation Initiative was established in April 2014 with the aim of increasing the number of employers in Scotland who are recognised for paying their staff the Living Wage. Hosted by The Poverty Alliance, the Initiative works in partnership with the Living Wage Foundation and is funded by the Scottish Government.
Two years later the government introduced a higher minimum wage rate for all staff over 25 years of age inspired by the Living Wage campaign - even calling it the ‘national living wage’.
However, the Living Wage Foundation explains: “The government's 'national living wage' is not calculated according to what employees and their families need to live.
“Instead, it is based on a target to reach 60% of median earnings by 2020. Under current forecasts this means a rise to less than £9 per hour by 2020. For under 25s, the minimum wage rates also take into account affordability for employers.
“The real Living Wage rates are higher because they are independently-calculated based on what people need to get by.
“The real Living Wage is the only UK wage rate that is voluntarily paid by over 3,500 UK businesses who believe their staff deserve a fair day's pay for a hard day's work.”
Employers choose to pay the Living Wage on a voluntary basis, and KCP is proud to be one of them, while the National Minimum Wage is statutory and enforced by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
You might think that the idea of a living wage is fairly new but the Poverty Alliance says on its website that the concept of a Living Wage has roots in various cultural, religious and philosophical traditions and first emerged around 1870 when early trade unions began to demand that workers be paid enough to cover food, clothing and shelter for themselves and their families.
In 1894 Liberal MP Mark Oldroyd said, "A living wage must be sufficient to maintain the worker in the highest state of industrial efficiency, with decent surroundings and sufficient leisure".
The Trade Boards Act of 1909 set new standards for many low paid workers, especially women working at home. It was around this time that Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree, son of Joseph Rowntree, developed the first tool kit for calculating the living wage, or what he called ‘the human costs of labour’.
Despite the Independent Labour Party adopting it as official policy in 1931, the proposed Living Wage Bill was never supported by parliament.
That was the last time the idea was given any political attention, until the modern UK Living Wage Campaign was launched by members of London Citizens in 2001.
The founders were parents in the East End of London, who wanted to remain in work, but found that despite working two or more minimum wage jobs they were struggling to make ends meet and were left with no time for family and community life.
The Living Wage is an example of communities, business, campaigners and faith groups coming together to find practical, non-statutory means to address in-work poverty and strengthen families.
In 2005, following a series of successful Living Wage campaigns and growing interest from employers, the Greater London Authority established the Living Wage Unit to calculate the London Living Wage.
In 2008 Trust for London selected the London Living Wage as a special initiative and made a grant of over £1 million to deliver direct campaign work, research and an accreditation scheme for employers.
The Living Wage campaign has since grown into a national movement.
And I have to agree with the Poverty Alliance when they say: “The case that Living Wage campaigns put forward today is the same as those workers who demanded a fair wage back in 1870.
“Despite massive improvements in pay and conditions in Scotland, until every worker can provide for themselves and their family, we have not gone far enough.”