12 October 2013

Where there is no vision, the people perish (Proverbs 29.18)

In June 1941, when the outcome of World War II for Britain was uncertain, the government set up a committee under William Beveridge to look at reform of the country’s rudimentary social security. The revolutionary Beveridge Report was published in December 1942 but not implemented until after the war when it helped shape the welfare state. Thus in the midst of war with the future far from sure Britain had a vision of social justice. In the four years after the war, at a time of serious economic difficulties, Britain established social security and social justice: the NHS and financial support for children and rent control were enacted, there was reform of pensions and national insurance.

Seventy years later Cornwall Council faces difficulties as its funds are cut and cut. Of course councillors and officers are focused on the cuts and how to adjust services to them. The consultation they are conducting is entirely about what should be cut and by how much.

I think we should see an increase in particular spending, a small reallocation of funds to the lowest paid among the council and contractors’ staff.

In a time of difficulty I think Cornwall should be as bold as Beveridge in much more difficult times. Cornwall Council should have a vision of social and financial justice and say it supports a living wage for its workers and its contractors’ workers.

No, it is probably impossible financially for Cornwall to shift to a living wage for all its workers in one step; but we can begin. The council should announce now its intention to become an employer paying the living wage and urgently explore how it can realise a living wage and set out a timetable for the steps in implementation. At the same time the council should press its contractors to pay the living wage and when contracts come up for renewal insist on a living wage clause.

Times are hard for many people. Money is short. We should seize the circumstances for now is the time for Cornwall to have the vision to do justice to the low paid. Cornwall should not be built on the backs of the poor. I hope too that the council, looking a zero hours contracts, will decide there is a better way to achieve flexibility that does not leave people with uncertain wages to pay certain bills.

For my last post on the living wage with links to previous posts on it click here

The living wage outside London is currently £7.45 an hour. It is calculated by the Centre for research in social policy, Loughborough University. The mandatory minimum wage for adults is currently £6.31 an hour.