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


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Rob Simmons is reporting on his blog that Penzance town council has voted to move to being a living wage employer.

This is excellent news. My warm congratulations to Rob and those councillors that voted for this. I hope it works out well for everyone.

I realise the financial implications for Penzance council are relatively modest but I hope this spirit of social and financial justice reaches Cornwall Council.

Previous posts on the living wage are here

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


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.

Notes
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.


SUFFER LITTLE CHILDREN

2 September 2013

I have written about child poverty in Cornwall and elsewhere several times. Last year’s blog post Child poverty still with us explores the issue and my thoughts. It is hard to crack, calling for sustained political will. It worsened significantly under the Tory governments after 1979; the last Labour government did commendably much but in the end not enough. It is depressing that the current Tory Libdem government has chosen to try in part to redefine the problem away, to play the Samaritan without the oil and tuppence as it were.

Child poverty now worsening
Things are not getting better for children in poverty. The Tory Libdem assault on social security has reduced the income of the poor. There have been cuts to housing benefit, unaffordable affordable rents, bedroom tax, council tax to be paid by those who cannot, a VAT increase, wages frozen or kept below inflation as prices rise: a litany of misery and pauperisation visited deliberately on the poor and vulnerable and on their children. The Institute for fiscal studies (IFS) forecasts that the number of children in poverty will significantly rise over this decade because of government policies.

In Cornwall
There has been a noticeable increase over the last year in customers at foodbanks, including in Cornwall. The child poverty statistics published last year by End child poverty are grim. As ever, Cornwall is various but the six unitary ward in Cornwall with the largest proportion of children in poverty are Falmouth Penwerris with 36 percent, and then Troon and Beacon, Penzance Central, Penzance East, Redruth North, and Camborne West with 29. In some subwards the figures are even higher.

Cornwall Council has made child poverty data for subwards (ONS lower layer output areas) for August 2010 accessible with its neighbourhood profiles maps. Each subward has about 1500 people. The proportion of children in poverty in for example Camborne Pengegon, Penzance Treneer, and Bodmin Kinsman Estate are disturbingly high.

Living wage
Nationally, three fifths of children in poverty live in homes where at least one parent or carer works. There is a related issue of low pay. The living wage is a matter of decent pay for workers but also of enough money for families to live on.

Greater expectations
Now along comes Greater expectations, a report from the National Childrens Bureau which compares its Born to fail? report of 1969 with today. It tells a disappointing history but offers practical improving recommendations.

On progress since the first report it says that by and large the inequalities of 1969 are still with us (page 1). It looks in detail at inequalities in education, housing, and health for example.

The report sensibly suggests that the government annual budgets should come with an assessment of its impact on child poverty and inequality from the Office for budget responsibility (OBR); that the political parties should set out in their 2015 manifestos how they would tackle child poverty; and it suggests a national benchmarks to measure child poverty against. All desirable, all doable.

Parallel communities
We must take child poverty seriously, all poverty seriously, we must take inequalities seriously. They blight people’s life chances, they rob Britain of mute inglorious Miltons in the workplace. Greater expectations rightly warns that we may become a Britain where rich and poor children live different lives in parallel communities (page 31). I fear that may be happening for adults in Britain too.

Notes
See ‘Britain 2013: children of poor families are still left behind’ in Observer 24 August 2013

Suffer the little children: Luke 18.16. Suffer in the Authorised Version of 1611 means allow, let. The Greek Luke makes this clear, aphete ta paidia; as does sinite in the Latin version.

Samaritan: ‘You find people ready enough to do the Samaritan, without the oil and tuppence’ Sydney Smith (1769-1845), Anglican priest, in Memoir of the reverend Sydney Smith, 1.261 by Saba Holland

Mute inglorious Milton: Thomas Gray (1716-71) Elegy written in a country churchyard


Let’s begin with the good news: better enforcement of the minimum wage and the promotion of the living wage, both important for low-pay Cornwall.

Minimum wage
The Tory Libdem government has decided to name and shame companies that fail to pay the legal minimum wage and make it easier to fine them.

I can’t think why Labour did not do introduce an effective enforcement regime when the wage was introduced in 1999 or in the following years; a signal failure.

Of course, naming and shaming is not enough. It is a welcome reform and the Tory Libdem government are to be congratulated warmly but hefty fines should be imposed too.

From this October the minimum wage will be £6.31 an hour for adults of 21 and over.

Living wage
The second good news is that Labour appears to be firming its approach to the living wage. The party has already pledged to insist government contracts include the living wage and to give tax breaks to living wage companies: see here and here. These are serious promises that go beyond merely mouthing support for the living wage. Now Ed Miliband has rightly said low wages are a major issue and the living wage should be a priority for the next Labour government.

Soaring debt
And now for the unhappy news, the numbers of people in Cornwall falling into debt to the council.

The Money Advice Trust has announced that last financial year Cornwall Council referred debts from 16 781 domestic properties to bailiffs for collection, along with 1331 business ones. Of these debts, domestic debts were mostly for council tax arrears and business ones about business rates arrears.

The Money Advice Trust got its information from this Freedom of Information request that it made ( 3858196, February 2130). The council answer to that request gives additional information and shows a vast increase between 2010/11 and 2012/13.

While some of the debts are probably “won’t pay” ones, many are likely to be “can’t pay” ones.


Where there is no vision, the people perish Proverbs 29.18

The living wage is an issue that isn’t going away. It stands a rebuke to Cornwall Council until it is adopted and then effected. Its absence stands a challenge to all those who claim to be the sons and daughters of progress and reform, social and financial justice, and fairness but who do nothing with effect about this wage.

John Sentamu, archbishop of York, put it capitally: “At the end of the day what workers really need is pay not platitudes” (Observer 20 July 2013). It is not enough for parties to manifesto their support and then fall silent; they should push and push and push Cornwall Council to commit to the wage and urgently explore how it can be implemented. They should be actively campaigning about this. Social democracy is about effecting change.

The living wage cannot be implemented all at once in Cornwall Council. Council funds are short and getting shorter. It will be several years before we are out of the financial tightness. Paying the living wage is not an easy shovelling of money to the low paid and I am arguing for a commitment now and an exploration of how it can be effected, what a feasible timetable would be, what the feasible stages would be.

The living wage is not largess. Everyone who works at Cornwall Council should be paid a decent wage, a wage that enables you to live not grandly but carefully and decently, a living wage; no one should fall outside that.

Cornwall Council should give a decisive lead on this to employers in the county.

Seventy eight councils in England, 114 in Britain, pay or are committed to pay the living wage (GMB media report 5 June 2013). Perhaps Cornwall Council could look at how others successfully do this.

The previous posts on the living wage are here

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

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


I have been crying up the living wage, £7.45 an hour in Cornwall, for a while, arguing that Cornwall Council should take the lead here. Jude Robinson, a Labour councillor, raised the question in the previous council last year.

Excellently, Sunshine Care in Truro has announced it will pay the living wage, and John Sentamu, the archbishop of York, has now set up the Living Wage Commission to advance the wage nationally. He rightly says in an article in the Observer in support of the living wage that workers should be paid “enough to live on…a wage rate set to ensure a basic but acceptable standard of living.”

The Sentamu commission is calling for evidence from those paid less than the living wage and I hope some of those employed directly and indirectly by Cornwall Council on less than £7.45 an hour will respond.

Now is the time. No more waiting. Cornwall Council should start on the road to a living wage. Jude Robinson showed the realistic way last autumn and now cross-party support could press the council to effective action. Yes, there are the constraints of austerity but there is also human will.

The Cornwall cabinet in its aims set out on 3 June this year spoke of the pursuit of social justice and equality. Cornwall Council should pursue justice for its low paid workers urgently. As Sentamu says, “What workers really need is pay, not platitudes”. The living wage is the benchmark by which Cornwall council and cabinet will be judged.

The previous posts on the living wage are here

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

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