First published Tuesday 4 November 2014 in The Argus
The basic premise of the Living Wage campaign is that the national minimum wage of £6.50 an hour is simply too little for people to live on.
Yesterday the 2,000 people employed by 150 companies in Brighton and Hove who are paid the Living Wage saw their pay increase by 20p an hour to the new minimum of £7.85.
The increase marked the launch of Living Wage Week this week, as campaigners called on more employers to take up a voluntary minimum wage for staff.
The Brighton and Hove Living Wage Campaign, lead by the city’s Chamber of Commerce, is asking businesses to sign-up and pay employees the new independent hourly rate.
The living wage is calculated according to the basic cost of living in the UK and ensures people earn enough money to live a decent life, rather than just survive.
Unison is supporting the campaign and Brighton branch secretary Alex Knutsen wants to double the number of businesses signed up to the living wage campaign in the next 12 months.
Businesses in Brighton and Hove which have signed up in the run up to this year’s launch include Madison Solutions, Kare Plus, the Brighton Pavilions Guest House, Kingsway Court Freeholders Ltd, Hilton Sharp and Clarke Chartered Accountants, the charity The Fed Centre for Independent Living and the i360.
Steve Courtney, co-owner of Brighton Pavilions Guest House, said: “Paying a living wage to our employees is really important to us.
“We believe our staff will be happier, more productive and will deliver even better customer service to our guests. It’s simply the right thing to do.”
Christopher Dean, managing director of Digital Tactics LTD, said: “We believe that all businesses rely on the performance of their staff to succeed, and in turn we have a responsibility to our business and staff to allow them to be the best they can be.
“For us this starts with paying at least a living wage for the work they carry out on a day to day basis, as well as investing in training, providing healthcare, pensions and appropriate bonus schemes to reward excellent performance.
“Whether in a recession or not, from an employee’s perspective, sometimes ‘a job is a job’ and may have some value regardless of salary; it can also be tough for employers to make ends meet too from time to time, but this is no reason to take advantage of that mind-set.”
The new living wage rate is a rise of 2.6%.
Brighton and Hove’s Living Wage Campaign was launched in 2012.
The progress of the campaign has been hailed by Councillor Jason Kitcat, leader of the Brighton and Hove City Council, as one of the “most successful in the UK”.
The Green council also introduced the Living Wage for its employees when the party came to power and is now accredited by Living Wage Foundation.
Coun Kitcat said: “The reality is that everyone in society bears the costs of low wages, as the government effectively subsidises them through the welfare system.
“Where people aren’t paid enough to live, benefits like housing benefit helps them make ends meet.
“But paying the living wage is good for business too, as staff members are more likely to stay at an organisation, work better, and morale is higher.
“Local people also have more money in their pockets to spend in local shops and restaurants.
“A growing number of local employers are showing that it’s possible to reward employees and build a successful company at the same time, and I look forward seeing more sign up.”
The local campaign aims to sign up another 20 businesses, charities, social enterprises and public sector organisations to the campaign during Living Wage Week this week.
Rhys Moore, director of the Living Wage Foundation said: “As the recovery continues it’s vital that the proceeds of growth are properly shared. It’s not enough to simply hope for the best.
“It will take concerted action by employers, government and civil society to raise the wages of the five million workers who earn less than the Living Wage.
“The good news is that the number of accredited living wage employers has more than doubled this year – over 1,000 employers across the UK have signed up. In the last 12 months the number of living wage employers in the FTSE 100 has risen from four to 18.
“Those businesses that can, should follow the example of Nestle and Nationwide, as well as hundreds of smaller, independent businesses like CTS Cleaning and Hodgson Sayers Roofing, who pay the living wage. Low pay costs the taxpayer money – firms that pay the minimum wage are seeing their workers’ pay topped up through the benefits system. So it’s right that we recognise and celebrate those employers who are voluntarily signing up to the higher living wage, and saving the taxpayer money in the process.”
Representatives of the Green, Labour and Conservative parties, at a national and local level, support the campaign and are calling on more employers in Brighton and Hove to sign up to the initiative.
Simon Kirby, Conservative MP for Brighton Kemptown and Peacehaven, said: “We all know that prices in Brighton are particularly high, especially for housing and transport, and so it is important that employers are fair in the wages they pay.
“Having a job is a key component in ensuring that people are able to move forward with their lives and making work pay is a key component in the Government’s Long Term Economic plan.”
Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion, pictured inset, said: “I’m immensely proud of the many employers in Brighton and Hove who subscribe to the Living Wage Campaign.
“They show that, even when times are tough, it’s possible to pay fairly and tackle inequality while maintaining economic competitiveness.
“Those businesses reflect values that have become synonymous with our city – that fierce sense of fairness, of working for the common good: that’s Brighton and Hove.
“I’ll continue to back the Living Wage and I encourage all businesses to subscribe to it.”
“The city is, increasingly, a real hub for enterprise – creative, dynamic and innovative. And it’s showing that, even in a time of economic hardship, it’s possible for businesses to thrive while promoting fairness.”
Peter Kyle, Labour Parliamentary Candidate Hove and Portslade, pictured inset, said: “It’s a shocking truth that most people living in poverty these days are in work.
“Many employers are trailblazing in their efforts to tackle in-work poverty, after-all it makes sense to do so.
“Actions like the Brighton & Hove Living Wage Campaign bring these pioneers of fair-pay together to transform how our city’s employers approach remuneration and I have proudly added my name to this growing movement.”
As part of the Living Wage campaign the local Labour group members have announced that they want to make Brighton and Hove a “Living Wage City”.
The three labour parliamentary candidates (PPCs) and city group leader and city councillor Warren Morgan have all signed a pledge to increase the spread of the wage.
The party’s policy decision is driven by the amount of child poverty in the city previously reported in The Argus, with a quarter of the city’s children living below the poverty line.
Don’t demonise business
While support for the Living Wage Campaign has grown, some employees in the hospitality sector have questioned how it will affect their industry.
Tourist bosses have warned there is a “lack of thought and consideration” in calls for the introduction of the Living Wage.
Nick Mosley, managing director Brighton and Hove Food and Drink Festival CIC, pictured, said while no one “would disagree with the Living Wage in principle” the implementation would lead to issues.
He said: “My concern is that behind the banner waving and PR campaign, there is a lack of thought and consideration as to why it is a lot more complex for some sectors rather than others.
“Tourism and hospitality – and for that matter retail – have particular challenges that impede on the industry’s ability to pay staff more without passing on significant additional costs to the end consumer, pushing up prices on feel-good activities for both residents and visitors.”
He said that 40% of a “typical” Brighton and Hove restaurant’s expenditure already goes on wages and the enforcement of the living wage was likely to lead to many having to shut down, cut staff or more to a “cash-in-hand” payment system. Mr Mosley said: “What concerns me is that the campaign is trumpeting employers who are already paying the Living Wage rather than actively engaging in the much more complex issues that are faced by key employment sectors in the city. The government sets the minimum wage, and I’d be much keener to engage in a conversation around that in terms of the wider economy than what I see as political point scoring and a Chamber of Commerce PR exercise.
“Contrary to the belief of some in Brighton and Hove, we don’t exist in a bubble but rather in a global economy and that involves competition as much as it involves ethical choices. I urge those campaigning for the Living Wage not to demonise businesses.”
Soozie Campbell, chairwoman of the Brighton and Hove Tourism Alliance, said: “Some members have increased pay to the living wage but then had to cut hours because it wasn’t viable, so staff were no better off. In the same vein others have offered fixed contracts to staff on zero hours contracts only to have to revert when staff found it disadvantaged them.
“What I’m saying is market forces will decide the right wage for each job and as long as everyone is paying the minimum wage there shouldn’t be any disputes about it.
“You will notice that most of the companies that have signed up to the living wage are in financial services, media, PR etc where margins are high and staff are skilled and well qualified. These companies wouldn’t get the capability they need if they offered less than the living wage.
“Tourism offers jobs to unskilled workers and I bet if you asked any one of them ‘would you rather have the minimum wage or no wage?’ the answer would highlight the pointlessness of pushing for a living wage. Because the reality is that if tourism businesses had to pay the Living Wage they would consequently have to sack a fair number of people in order to pay the rest.”