The campaign for a real Living Wage was born 20 years ago, when communities in East London came together to discuss the issues affecting them and their families. The same problem came up again and again: low pay. In the 20 years since, nearly 8,000 employers have been inspired by their voices to voluntarily go beyond the legal minimum and pay workers a wage based on the cost of living.
Powerful testimonies and leadership from those affected by low pay were the sparks which lit the Living Wage movement and that remains the same today. That's why, together with Citizens UK and On Road Media, we're proud to launch the Living Wage Leadership Academy. The Leadership Academy will create space for authentic leadership for those who know first-hand the difference the Living Wage makes to workers and their families. By supporting the next generation of leaders to grow, the Living Wage Leadership Academy will make sure that the next 20 years of our movement continue as the first began: with people at its heart.
To celebrate its launch, we'll be publishing a series of interviews with the participants of the Living Wage Leadership Academy. We'll talk about who they are, why they care about the real Living Wage and what their hopes are for the future of our movement. First up - meet Rachel Flint, a passionate campaigner for the Living Wage in social care.
Tell me about yourself.
I'm a 33 year-old poet, living in an independent living facility in Leeds. The age range of residents ranges between about 21-60, there's a mixture of learning difficulties and physical disabilities, and it's a great community to live in.
For me, writing poetry is like a form of journaling. I've been writing poetry since aged 7 and it's poetry that brought me into campaigning for the Living Wage. In a local newspaper, I saw that Leeds Church Institute were running a competition to collect poems that reflect life in Leeds. I wrote a poem about two of my carers - twin sisters who emigrated from Sicily to work in the social care system. They were just so lovely; I wanted to write my poem as a tribute to them. From there the poem got passed on to Citizens UK which is how I became involved with the campaign. I really wasn't expecting that one local competition in the newspaper would lead me to help fight for the Living Wage. But it's awesome! I'm a big believer in serendipity, in the beautiful domino effect of life.
Why are you passionate about the Living Wage?
My main passion is campaigning for the Living Wage in Social Care. It's a case of dignity, for care workers and care users alike. As a care user, I'm really affected by the effects of low pay in the sector. The high turnover of staff, for example, means I have a parade of strangers doing very intimate things to me. It can be distressing. The first time you meet a carer they're on their shadow shift and they watch you shower. My carers wash me, they dress me, they see my nakedness. Every time they go, they're replaced by a new cohort of people to get to know. It's a constant upending of dignity and it helps no-one. The sector needs to keep the experience it has in it. It needs to keep the people who genuinely see it as a vocation, like the carers I wrote the poem about. A real Living Wage is a great place to start doing that from.
Why are you taking part in the Living Wage Leadership Academy?
I'm taking part because I want to get something done. The impact that the campaign has had so far in its 20 years of history has been monumental. Thinking of the impact it could have in the next 20 years is a beautiful future to look upon. Think of it - a kinder society. A society where the weakest are cared for, the most vulnerable are cared for, where the elderly are cared for. A society in which we can all live in the knowledge that we'll be properly cared for when we're older by people who are cared for by the system. Everyone wins.
What are your hopes for the future of this campaign?
I would love to see the Living Wage campaign advance in social care. I want society to acknowledge that it's not a low-skilled job. It's a travesty that there have been perceptions that care work is easy to pick up and easy to leave. These are people making medical decisions, working in tandem with the NHS, making judgement calls with real and significant consequences for people's lives. I can't imagine having to make some of the choices they do, and they're choices that care workers are making every day at the same time as dealing with intimate and complicated things like catheters and stomas.
What's happened in the last two years has been the equivalent of society being put on pause. We need to use this time as an opportunity to rethink things and move towards a fairer society that pays everyone their due. Right now, the sky is the limit.
The Living Wage Foundation has launched a Social Care Toolkit providing guidance for adult social care providers and local authorities commissioning care who wish to pay their workers the real Living Wage. Help us do right by workers and families by becoming a Living Wage Employer today.