I can’t imagine that anyone could fundamentally disagree with the concept of ensuring the UK’s lowest paid workers have enough to live on. But for employers, when it boils down to it, it’s not about the principles, but the cost. Unfortunately those organisations which function via a reliance on a low paid workforce – those workers which need help the most – face a bigger pay bill, and therefore a stronger excuse, not to implement the Living Wage.
Part of the problem is it’s only voluntary. When I say “only” that’s not to dumb down the amazing work undertaken by the Living Wage Foundation to not just talk about the issues, but to actually do something about them. It’s really a reflection of what is happening at a National Policy level that so far the Living Wage as a choice rather than a requirement.
Welfare Reform has left those living in poverty in a vacuum. The government has recognised that work doesn’t always provide enough to live on, thereby meaning benefit reliance is the most financially viable option. Yet the reality is that benefits have already been slashed and the roll out of Universal Credit is being rushed after a long lead in and a series of basically unsuccessful and administratively complicated trials. Alongside this, National Minimum Wage rates have been slow to react, with the first above inflation rise only occurring this year and the prospect of increasing this in line with real terms delayed until 2015 at the earliest.
When you look at the individual cases it’s not so easy to reduce it down to a question of cost. Those stories of working parents going without food to provide for their children are real. These are good people who want to do what’s right – but at the moment it’s hit or miss on whether they’ll be given the chance to work their way out of poverty.
In considering the real issues I also want to warn against falling into the trap of thinking the Living Wage is just for those working in supportive and manual roles. Some of the lowest paid workers are those on the first rung of their career ladder, such as apprentices. They are our leaders of tomorrow, and their progression can easily be stalled if they don’t have decent support.
So really it’s a question of sacrifice. By choosing work over benefits, which can be the easier option, the low paid are making sacrifices. Isn’t it time employers recognised this and made a sacrifice of their own?
For more information on becoming a Living Wage employer see The Living Wage Foundation.