Katherine Chapman, Director of the Living Wage Foundation, reflects on the success of the Living Wage movement and the future of good work for Living Wage Week 2023.
This week, employers, workers and supporters up and down the country are coming together for the annual celebration of the Living Wage movement, Living Wage Week. It’s a time of reflection and appreciation for the remarkable journey we’ve been on together. This year we have seen record numbers of employers sign up to pay the real Living Wage, meaning we inch closer and closer to a society where no one is forced to skip meals to heat their homes.
As well as celebrating the incredible progress the movement has made, this Living Wage Week is also about looking to the future of what good work looks like in the UK. We are really excited that this year we hosted the first ever Living Work summit where business leaders, economists and thought leaders came together to talk about their visions for the future of good work in the UK.
Growing the Living Wage movement
Begun by workers and community organisers in East London, the Living Wage campaign has now been active for 22 years and the Living Wage Foundation for 12 years. The real Living Wage has shaped the landscape of low pay in the UK and thanks to the dedicated businesses who continue to make the right decision to pay a real Living Wage, it’s incredible to reflect on what we’ve achieved.
There are now over 14,000 employers who choose to pay all their directly employed and regular contracted workers a real Living Wage, with over 3,000 signing up in the last year alone. Together they deliver pay rises in line with the cost of living to nearly half a million workers each year, and 1 in 9 workers in the UK now work for real Living Wage Employer. Altogether, the movement has put £3 bn back into the pockets of low paid workers since the campaign began.
And we know the difference it makes. Being paid a real Living Wage means being able to lead a decent life. It means being able to afford to buy children presents on their birthday, put decent food on the table or get the boiler fixed when it breaks. As prices continue to rise, it’s more important than ever that those who have been hit hardest – those who earn the least – earn a wage that meets the rising cost of living .
Living Wage Employers know that paying a real Living Wage is the right thing to do. They also know that it’s good for business. 94% of accredited Living Wage employers report organisational benefits including a more motivated and engaged workforce, reduced staff sickness and turnover, leading to better productivity and cost savings.
Every new accredited Living Wage Employer strengthens the movement, showing what is possible even - and especially – during tough times.
Beyond the Living Wage and towards Living Work
Many employers are now looking at what more they can do. Three years ago, we launched Living Hours – a new standard designed to help employers provide security and stability of hours alongside a real Living Wage. This is the other side of the coin to pay – it’s not enough to earn a decent hourly wage if there are insufficient hours or such short notice of shifts that it’s impossible to plan a life. There are now 120 accredited employers, more than double the number at the start of the year.
Earlier this year we launched the Living Pension accreditation - a new employer benchmark for pension contributions because 95% of low paid workers are not saving at a level to have a decent standard of living in retirement. Today’s cost of living crisis is tomorrow’s pensions crisis. We are delighted that 25 employers have already signed up to reduce the risk of poverty later in life for those on low pay. Their workers can now look forward to a secure and stable future when they finish work.
Spreading the Living Wage locally and globally!
We continue to use the power of place to grow the Living Wage movement. From the Royal Docks in Newham to the Greater Manchester City-region, there are 16 recognised Living Wage Places across the UK. We know that the ‘multiplier effect’ for local economies from increasing the number of people earning the Living Wage as money goes back into the economy through higher spending and productivity is significant and can contribute to levelling up towns, regions and cities across the UK. At a UK level, if a quarter of people were paid a real Living Wage the national boost would be £1.7 billion. All accredited Living Wage Places will benefit from a push by their Action Groups to significantly expand Living Wage accreditation in their areas.
Looking further afield, we launched the Global Living Wage Affiliate Network in March this year with sister organisations in the US and New Zealand to support and align Living Wage accreditation schemes round the world. We are also working with partner organisations to support an aligned approach to the calculation of Living Wage rates round the globe. We are also working with the UN Global Compact on new Living Wage targets as part of the Forward Faster initiative to help businesses meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
As well as being a celebration of all the great work Living Wage Employers do tackling low pay, Living Wage Week is also a call to action. It’s a reminder that we shouldn’t take our foot off the pedal. The Living Wage movement grows every day and we are inspired by your stories of change, driven by the commitment of Living Wage Employers and civil society champions, and determined to continue our journey towards decent work for everyone.
As we look ahead, let’s envision a future where everyone earns a wage that’s enough to meet everyday needs, has working hours that can be relied on, and has a pension that’s enough to live on. Whether you are an employer, a worker, or a supporter we invite you to join us on this journey.