BLOG: A place-based approach to growing the Living Wage movement
The number of working people living in poverty has risen sharply over the past 25 years due to a variety of factors including inadequacy of social security, strained public services, stagnating wages and increasing living costs. Worryingly, poverty rates are projected to increase further, with rising levels of in work poverty a continuing trend. The extent poverty rates will be affected by Brexit remains unclear, yet what is certain is that the harmful effects of poverty will be felt in towns and cities across the UK.
The good news is that employer support of a voluntary Living Wage movement is stronger than ever.
Across the UK, employers are recognising the benefits of becoming an accredited Living Wage employer, such as increased staff motivation, productivity and staff retention, improved company reputation and in turn reduced recruitment and training costs.
Over 1500 employers in Scotland across all sectors and industries have joined the Living Wage employer movement by becoming accredited Living Wage employers.
There are now over 5000 accredited Living Wage employers across the UK, and last month – the Living Wage Foundation announced that the movement has delivered £1 Billion of extra wages to workers since the campaign began in 2001.
The growth of the Living Wage employer movement demonstrates a shared commitment to paying all staff at least the real Living Wage and is testament to the strength of civil society movements in general.
At the start of the modern UK Living Wage movement, protestors disrupted the financial district in East London to demand that large firms ensured their contract cleaners were paid a real Living Wage. The movement in Scotland was led by the Poverty Alliance: with grassroots community activists, trade unions, faith groups and community leaders.
But the pivotal shift in the Living Wage movement is when employer accreditation was created, and offered private enterprise a clear and unambiguous role as participants in the movement. By becoming accredited as Living Wage employers, private enterprise can help change the in-work poverty landscape.
Now, the Living Wage employer logo has fast become the recognisable symbol of responsible pay. At Living Wage Scotland, we have seen employers actively promoting the real Living Wage to suppliers, partner organisations and across their business networks. The impacts of peer encouragement are often clusters of newly accredited Living Wage employers operating in the same place.
The new Living Wage Places model offers a framework in which employers can work in partnership with other likeminded and influential local employers, to ensure the Living Wage movement grows at an accelerated pace in the places that matter to them. The model will help the real Living Wage become the expected norm in buildings, neighbourhoods, towns or cities.
In seeking to harness place identity as a motivator for even more employers to join the movement, we have been developing the Living Wage Places model in Scotland since 2017, with the support of Carnegie UK Trust.
The early stages of this process involved undertaking a feasibility assessment and extensive stakeholder engagement to identify if there was a demand for a place-based Living Wage scheme, and to scope out the possibilities of creating a model responsive to a wide range of local situations.
The conclusion of our early analysis was that there is a clear demand for a place-based approaches to promote the real Living Wage. We then worked to create a flexible model that could be adopted in a variety of place types: in larger places like towns and cities, as well as smaller places like business districts or shared buildings.
The result is a Living Wage Places model that encourages employers to seek out partnerships with others, in order to take brave and meaningful local action to increase uptake of the real Living Wage.
We have since seen places adopt this model, with the launch of the first Living Wage Building in Lambeth, the launch of Making Dundee a Living Wage City, and the launch of Making Glenrothes a Living Wage Town, and many more places on the journey.
We have worked closely with local employers and area stakeholders to collate important lessons to share.
As the Living Wage employer movement across Scotland and the UK continues to grow, we are delighted to launch Living Wage Places: A toolkit on tackling low pay by celebrating local action, that offers practical advice for local employers to grow this movement in their community.
We are excited to see the way that this approach can accelerate the growth of the Living Wage movement, even beyond the geographical boundaries of any one place.
What comes next is the efforts on the ground, with committed Living Wage employers working together, to make the real Living Wage the norm in their place.
Lynn Anderson is the Living Wage Places National Coordinator at Living Wage Scotland.