Since becoming Leader of Kirklees Council almost 12 months ago, I have been keen to see us become a living wage employer in a living wage district.
This is important to me on many levels, and something the leading group has fought for despite the impact it will have on the salary bill at a time of cuts in services and changes in the way we work.
But I hope that this small step for Kirklees will be the trigger for other employers to adopt the living wage and see the benefits we know that it brings. We hear a lot in the news and in politics that polarises debate between those in work (always known as hard-working families) and those on benefits (known as anything depending on the media you read).
The ones that rarely appear in the debate are the working poor, and in-work poverty is a serious issue in our region.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation recognises that “improving pay should be a central plank of a strategy to address in-work poverty,” but goes on to make the point that there is also a need to be clear about exactly what it can achieve. 44% of people in working poverty live in households where no-one is paid less than the living wage of £7.85.
It goes hand in hand with other packages of support for lower paid workers – pay is not the only issue.
Job quality is a serious issue, particularly in low skill, low wage sectors. Training, progression at work, job security and fair contracts need to be tackled if we are to help increasing numbers of people stuck in entry level or zero hours jobs.
The benefits are now well known:
enhances the quality of the work of staff, while absenteeism down by approximately 25%.
- two thirds of employers reported a significant impact on recruitment and retention within their organisation with staff turnover down to 1% from 4%
- the living wage helps people provide for themselves and their families.
- 75% of employees reported increases in work quality as a result of receiving the living wage.
- 50% of employees felt that the Living Wage had made them more willing to implement changes in their working practices
But in a sense, the council is the easy nut to crack. I want Kirklees to become a living wage district, where other employers take our lead and sign up to a fair work charter that includes support for our poorest working families.
We will publicise more details soon, but in short, I would like a local accreditation scheme for employers to join us in this mission. The basics are that the employer:
Acknowledges the impact of poverty and the working poor
- Pays our living wage
- Offers training and development to staff
- Has flexible working where the working style allows (eg office companies should, but production line work might not lend itself)
- Supports local recruitment by advertising roles locally
Evidence shows that insufficient income is associated with worse outcomes across virtually all health indicators, including long term health and life expectancy. Adopting a living wage has been shown by studies to improve psychological well-being among employees and I look forward to more companies and organisations joining us in the campaign.
The issue of low pay is an issue for all of us, we all benefit from a growing economy and the best way to grow the economy is to give more income to those who are likely to spend i.e. the low paid. So in helping others, as is often the case, we are helping ourselves.
Living Wage Foundation (website)
Joseph Rowntree Foundation (website)