Becoming a living wage city requires business leaders to step up

Ines Lage, South West TUC. © Jess Hurd

Today’s blog comes from Ines Lage of the Trade Union Congress (TUC)

Today is the culmination of Living Wage Week – a time to praise good businesses and employers who voluntarily agree to pay all their directly and indirectly employed staff at least the real living wage.

Unlike the national minimum wage, this hourly rate (currently set at £9.30) is independently calculated by the Living Wage Foundation to recognise the true cost of living.

More than 70 businesses in Bristol are now accredited, including Bristol City Council, meaning more than 19,000 employees in the city work for an employer who recognises a decent living wage as a key part of their employment responsibilities. 

Unfortunately, there are still 33,000 jobs in the city paid below the living wage. And unless more businesses get on board, Bristol’s image of a tale of two cities will not go away.

Nationally, very little has been done to tackle the rise of in-work poverty. Piecemeal increases to the legal minimum wage rates alongside a decade of decreasing real-terms wages, low productivity, funding cuts and limited national investment into the regions has meant that Bristol, like many cities across the country, has seen more working households struggling to make ends meet.   

In the last year alone, Bristol handed out over 50,000 meals to poor families and children.  And average household debt has soared as more people turn to credit to cover basic household bills. 

You are now more likely to be in poverty and in work than poor and jobless.

So it was inspiring to hear the Mayor of Bristol set a challenge to the many city leaders involved in the One City Plan to become real living wage employers.

Not just because of the economic benefits it would have for the business and for Bristol, but because “it speaks to the values of who we are as a city and who we want to be in the future”.  

Tackling entrenched inequality in some of Bristol’s poorest areas was one of the driving forces for Bristol’s ‘One City Plan’ – and it’s what brought so many of Bristol’s business leaders together to achieve this innovative approach to city-wide leadership.

However, true leadership means recognising that we each have a role to play in achieving the set of standards we want to see in the places we live and work.

As city leaders sit down to co-create an inclusive and sustainable Bristol, it would be good to see some self-reflection from each leader about their own employment standards and practices.

True, many will probably be paying their directly employed staff well above the real living wage. But what we’ve found is that it’s often those employed through third-party suppliers or contractors, such as cleaners, security and reception staff, whose wages too often fall below living-wage standards.

As the federation of trade unions, the TUC knows all too well how good quality jobs that pay a decent wage can tackle deep-rooted inequality and bring people out of poverty. A decent job ensures that more people can fulfil their potential, secure a decent start in life for their children, and maintain a stable home and standard of living. And for businesses it creates a loyal, healthy and happy workforce.

If Bristol’s health trusts and school academies, transport companies, sports clubs and leading tech and finance firms all signed up to be living wage employers, we’d be well on the way to achieving the social justice we want to see in the city.

Bristol deserves a pay rise – working together, we can deliver it.

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