Councillor Asher Craig is Deputy Mayor with responsibility for Children's Services, Education and Equalities at Bristol City Council. Here she talks about the campaign to make the real Living Wage the norm in Bristol and how it can help address racial inequity.
We’ve all seen the headlines, and many of us are feeling the squeeze ourselves: the cost of living crisis is upon us. The need for a wage that can keep step with inflation is clearer now than ever before. But the moral case for paying the real Living Wage extends beyond reducing poverty for people in work in general. It also helps address racial inequity, and local authorities like Bristol are leading the way.
Bristol City Council was accredited as a Living Wage Employer in 2018 to help reduce poverty and increase our employees’ standard of living. As an organisation, we also want to lead by example and promote economic and social wellbeing for workers in the city. Gaining accreditation was a real public commitment to fair pay. There is a strong business case for Bristol City Council to drive the spread of the Living Wage too. Councils everywhere are facing a challenging financial outlook, which makes it important for us to look at preventative measures for problems like in-work poverty rather than more expensive responses when things go wrong. Living wages are a great example of that principle. Championing the real Living Wage helps us to reduce poverty which, in turn, reduces demand on the public services we provide. Down the line, it enables people to flourish and make positive contributions to the local economy that working long hours on low pay often blocks.
The practical value of the Living Wage also becomes clear when it comes to tackling racial inequity, which is important in a diverse city with a history like Bristol’s. Not only are Black, Asian and minority ethnic people in the UK much more likely to suffer extremes of deep poverty than their white counterparts, they also face more challenges in escaping it. While good quality, decent work is an important structure that can help people escape the trap of poverty, Black, Asian and minoritised workers are disproportionately concentrated in low-paid, insecure jobs. The real Living Wage therefore presents an opportunity to ensure that there are good pay and conditions in place to support Black, Asian and minoritised families out of poverty and improve conditions down the generations. Never has this been more important than as we grapple with the cost-of-living crisis.
The case for championing a wage based on the cost of living is clear, and it’s a cause that Bristol City Council has taken up wholeheartedly. After becoming accredited as a Living Wage Employer in 2018, we have embraced our unique ability as a local authority to drive the Living Wage movement on the ground. Councils are often one of – if not the largest – employers in the region, giving us power to set the tone of the local labour market and for us, getting other large employers to follow our lead was a priority from the start.
Bristol was one of the first UK cities to be formally recognised by the Living Wage Foundation for our efforts to become a Living Wage City. As a council, we have been working with a core group of local employers to further drive this change and reduce in-work poverty city-wide.
Since the Bristol Living Wage City initiative began in December 2019, we have successfully helped get an additional 4,000 people onto the real Living Wage, quadrupled the number of accredited Living Wage employers in Bristol to almost 250, and increased the number of people working for real Living Wage accredited employers to over 43,000. We have now extended our Living Wage City status for another three years to continue this important work.
Bristol’s culture and history make our city unique. But the challenges we are grappling with will be familiar to those facing local authorities up and down the country. While implementing the Living Wage takes time and careful planning, we have a duty to workers and families of the past, present and future, to take up the tools that can help us right historic wrongs, and pave the way to a fairer, brighter future for all.