The living wage is very much in the nation’s consciousness with hundreds of thousands of employees now working for the 1000 organisations officially accredited as living wage employers across the country.
In Preston, I have been privileged enough to be the cabinet member responsible for promoting the living wage across our city since Labour took control of the council in May 2011. The response has been more positive than I could have ever imagined. We were proud to become the first officially accredited employer by the Living Wage Foundation in the north of England in 2012.
We have brought the living wage into many of our contractual arrangements including our agency staff, with over 500 council employees and contracted workers benefiting since its introduction. We have established our own accreditation scheme with nearly 40 local employers signing up and, crucially, most of our placed-based institutions are joining us in our living wage journey. This includes Lancashire Council who are moving towards official accreditation and who recently signed Unison’s ethical care charter which will support the living wage for care workers across Lancashire who often have difficulty receiving the basic minimum wage.
This has meant Preston’s achievements in this field were acknowledged by the TUC this year, with Preston in the top 10% of local authority areas in the north-west for part-time female employees receiving the living wage or above with the living wage a gender equality issue as well as a socio-economic one. However, we don’t want to stop there. We are examining best practice by larger authorities like Birmingham and Islington to expand the living wage to supply contracts and we will use our influence as a member of the Lancashire pension fund.
We are the first local authority in the country to begin to shift our own investments to local and sustainable economics by backing the Move Your Money campaign in which the living wage is likely to feature. But our most exciting proposal is to seek to join with other authorities to submit a proposal under the Sustainable Communities Act to allow councils to supplement the minimum wage to the nationally set living wage level of £7.85 an hour to deliver a resounding "no" to poverty pay.
In doing this we intend to work with Local Works, the Key Cities Group and other Councils to join us in a collective submission. If accepted this would effectively mean everyone employed in the local authority area would receive the living wage. The proposal will also ask that some of the savings to the Treasury in reduced benefit payments and increased tax revenues are recycled to the local authority to assist small businesses especially with the transition. This is an exciting agenda we hope many in the LGA Labour Group will get behind."
By Councillor Matthew Brown, Cabinet Member for Social Justice, Inclusion & Policy Preston City.