Why we need a Living Wage
Our city depends on the poorly paid, the people who do the jobs that most of us wouldn’t, the people who cope with unsociable hours, who juggle two or three jobs around childcare or caring responsibilities, the people who don’t have the training or educational opportunities to start a decent career.
Without them our offices wouldn’t be cleaned, our leisure centres would struggle to stay open, it would be harder to teach our children, our care homes would go unstaffed, and our phone calls wouldn’t get answered. These people are often quiet, hard-working and too busy or powerless to complain – but they do a vital job.
Every day can be a struggle for our working poor. They find themselves vulnerable to loan sharks, or so-called legitimate lenders like pay day loan companies. They are paid little, so they put in more hours meaning they see less of those they love. They often don’t have access to trade union representation so the chances of them improving their terms and conditions are slim.
We have the opportunity to make an investment in these people and in Newcastle, to lead from the front by introducing a Living Wage across our city.
We can start on our own patch and set an example by improving the pay of our own staff. We then need to begin the larger task of persuading our private sector partners across the city to pay what is likely to be around £7.49 an hour.
The amounts of money gained by employees may seem small to us, but they will make a huge difference to people involved. Imagine if you are on minimum wage how much an extra £20 a week would mean. That’s also an extra £20 to spend on local shops and services, creating employment and benefiting us all.
And staff who feel adequately rewarded are less stressed and therefore happier and more productive employees. As one chief executive said: “It makes business sense to pay a living wage because staff can deliver better service if they are not worrying about the rent”.
And this isn’t a pipe dream, it is happening now. Across the UK big blue chip businesses from accountancy companies to hotel chains are already paying the Living Wage. Our council colleagues in Birmingham and Cardiff have also signed up to the principle and begun to transform the lives of the poorest in their cities.
Like any new, radical idea The Living Wage does come with practical difficulties – particularly from a human resources perspective – some of these are outlined in the attached paper. However, these are problems that have been overcome elsewhere and can be overcome in Newcastle.
We need to start seeing our Living Wage as an investment in our people and in our city, not as an extra cost. It’s not really about the money – its biggest advantage is its ability to help us strengthen our social contract by making a public statement about how much we value those who do the so-called “menial” jobs that keep our city moving and growing.
If we pay people more we reinforce the value of work, we tell people that they are worthy of reward and that we recognise their efforts.
I see a Living Wage as a key weapon in addressing some of Newcastle’s shocking inequalities, making us a stronger, fairer city.
By introducing this measure we improve lives. We give people greater economic freedom – freedom to save for that holiday, to drop their hours so they can pick a child up from school, or pay for that exercise class that they find really helps them through the week and keeps them feeling healthy.
The Living Wage makes sense financially and economically, it is up to us to negotiate the detail ahead and make it a reality in Newcastle.