10 October 2012
Councillor Andy Hull (Labour) chairs Islington Council's Communities Review Committee and was co-chair of the Islington Fairness Commission
No-one should do a hard day's work for less than they can live on.
That is the principle at the heart of the Living Wage campaign. It's about what people need, not what the market will bear. It's about ‘something for something' – a wage, not a hand-out. It's about fairness in tough times.
Citizens UK has been running the Living Wage campaign in this country for the past decade. In that time, they have helped secure over £100 million of additional wages for low-paid workers, lifting more than 10,000 families out of working poverty. It is a remarkable achievement. And whether it's in Tesco stores or Whitehall departments, cleaners themselves are in on the action. This is politics with the people, not just for them. And it's electric.
The London Borough of Islington recently became the first local authority in the country (along with Lewisham) to be formally accredited as a Living Wage Employer. For us, it's about recognising the dignity of work. Through our Islington Fairness Commission – a year-long listening exercise, taking evidence from hundreds of local residents – we heard first-hand how hard it is to live in London on less than £8.30 an hour. Working two or three jobs, catching night buses, no holidays, no Christmas presents, no time with the kids, no sleep. We felt something had to be done. So we put the Living Wage at the top of our agenda for making Islington a fairer place.
Now, all of our directly-employed staff are on at least the London Living Wage. The vast majority of our contracts – including big contracts for waste management, leisure and catering – now require our contractors to pay it too. And we have an agreed timetable, with milestones in place, for the rest of our contracts – including in tricky areas like social care – for them to go Living Wage too.
It's not good enough for layers of contracting and subcontracting to mean that out of sight is out of mind. We shouldn't abrogate responsibility for the working conditions of those who, in the end, are working for us.
There have been plenty of obstacles along the way. Members had asked officers to drive down costs for years and now suddenly we were asking them to ensure the people working on our behalf get a decent day's pay. The annual uplift to the Living Wage as costs rise poses a degree of financial risk. Long contracts are difficult to vary or break. European procurement law can appear overwhelming. Some services are delivered across authorities' boundaries. These things are all true but, with political will and clear leadership, they are all surmountable.
Obviously, these are difficult times economically and local authorities' budgets are being slashed. But going Living Wage doesn't have to break the bank. Backed by the likes of Citizens UK and our local unions, we've been on the front foot in negotiations with our major contractors. We're a big client for them, and sometimes we need to remind them of that.
A cross-departmental working group has driven our Living Wage policy throughout the council's systems. Where helpful, we've brought services such as cleaning back in-house, increasing the cleaners' wages at no extra cost to the taxpayer by cutting out exorbitant management costs. It takes commitment and creativity, and it's great to see more and more local authorities now showing both.
Going Living Wage can change the lives of the people who cook our children's school meals, staff our gyms and swimming pools, and keep our offices safe and clean. They work hard. They should be able to live, not just survive.
For more information visit the Citizens UK website:
16 October 2012