7 November 2013

Cornwall Council begins a journey to justice for the low paid

The living wage has just gone up to £7.65 an hour in Cornwall and elsewhere in Britain outside London. That is the decency threshold, the rate of pay that makes a decent life livable for adults and children.

The wage reaches people who are paid too little to pay income tax but who probably pay national insurance which kicks in at a much lower level than tax.

The Labour party has said that a Labour government would encourage the living wage by giving employers a tax break; in effect they would get back 32 pence for every £1 the living wage costs them. That shows a seriousness of intent by Labour. From the others, only occasional warm words; the other parties of progress and reform must do much better.

Around four hundred companies and organisations, large and small, in Britain are paying the living wage. In Cornwall Sunshine Care is paying the wage and Penzance town council is moving towards paying it. They are pioneers and deserve warm congratulations; Cornwall in general, however, is falling short of the decency threshold of the living wage.

Again the challenge is to Cornwall Council as the county’s major public body to begin to move to a living wage for all its employees – and those of its contractors – to seize the moment and build on Jude Robinson’s initiative.

The excellent news is that Cornwall Council is indeed taking the first steps towards paying the living wage. On Tuesday the committee of councillors with the unbelievable name of the Recruitment and performance portfolio advisory committee started the process towards implementation. It resolved to ask the leader of the council and chief executive to look at the mulifaceted details of a living wage “with a view to taking such steps as are necessary to implement the Living Wage” for Cornwall Council employees. Agenda item 7 of the meeting gives a sound and comprehensive exploration of the question here.

Although in theory the council might decide against progress, it is difficult to see anything stopping the living wage happening now. The example from Cornwall Council can be used as a spur for other large employers here, the RCHT hospitals for example. Sunshine Care and Penzance Council are a spur for smaller employers in Cornwall.

There remains the issue of contractors. I think the council should also explore how it might get every contractor also to pay the living wage to their people working indirectly for the council. I hope that is looked at too.

Congratulations to Cornwall Council; well, specifically to the committee with the long name. They have understood social and economic justice and its complexity and have bravely done what is just and right. We should all be pleased.

The work is not yet done. Those of us who support the living wage for Cornwall Council should be ready to argue the rightness and feasibility of meeting the cost in a time of austerity.

Notes and previous posts on the living wage are here

The living wage (House of Commons library note) 11 November 2013 [Added to this post 13 November 2013]

Penzance town council, a living wage employer 29 October 2013

Cornwall Council and the living wage 16 August 2013

Living wage for Cornwall 22 July 2013

Cheers, Jude Robinson 29 October 2012

A proper Cornish wage 10 May 2012

Progress to a living wage 29 June 2011

A living wage for Cornwall 17 May 2011

The pro-Cornish wage 31 August 2010

And these are relevant

What are the benefits of the living wage? from the Living Wage Foundation

Home truths by Vidhya ALEKESON and Giselle CORY, Resolution Foundation 12 July 2013

Low pay Britain by Matthew PENNYCOOK and Matthew WHITTAKER, Resolution Foundation 29 September 2012

What price a living wage? Matthew PENNYCOOK, Resolution Foundation 7 May 2012

Minimum wage: maximum impact Alan MANNING, Resolution Foundation 17 April 2012