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Why I joined the Living Wage Third Sector Steering Committee

This month, the Third Sector Steering Committee was launched with an ambition to encourage third sector organisations to play their part in raising awareness of and addressing in-work poverty in the sector. One member of this new group of leaders – Sophia Moreau, Deputy CEO/Public Affairs and Policy Manager at the Small Charities Coalition – writes here on why she joined the group.

A couple of months ago, I was invited to join the Third Sector Steering Committee, I must have delightfully responded within minutes. I was eager to be part of the Third Sector Steering Committee because I wanted to join a collaborative effort to solve perhaps the most prevalent issue in the non-profit sector. Working poverty, inequality and poor working conditions are, in most cases, bedfellows. Salaries are seldom going to be the only area in which corners are being cut. I am passionate about the need for a true Living Wage because a wage that does not cover the most basic of life costs in your local area is fundamentally unethical.

As a committee, we will work collaboratively to provide strategic advice and guidance to the Living Wage Foundation, as well as promoting the Living Wage and Living Hours in the third sector ourselves. One of our priorities is to publish new research. We cannot be complacent when investigating the causes and effects of the issue of low pay. We intend to build intelligence on low pay and centre those with lived experience, including disproportionately impacted workers.


The low pay crisis in the charity sector is, in some ways, understandable. It always points back to funding. Most charitable organisations are small, as over 91% have a turnaround of under £1 million and over 80% have a turnaround under £250,000. Prior to the pandemic, most small charities were already on a shoe-string budget. Many were entirely or mostly volunteer-run. In small charities and non-profits, low pay often goes unspoken. We freely speak of the lack of money in the organisation, but we get a little shy when it comes to the money individuals are paid. Those conversations are often harder because of the lack of widespread unionisation in third sector workplaces.

When you consider that a good amount of labour in third sector organisations comes from volunteers, it’s easy to see why discussing the pay of the workers is such a taboo. The availability and normalisation of unpaid work, of work that pays you in fulfilment, it’s easy to see why paid staff would struggle for further pay. This is elevated in frontline roles in charities. This is not to attack the spirit of volunteering - I’m a keen volunteer myself. The issue is that volunteering doesn’t substitute paid work, and in this sector it is often used as such. The bottom line is that this can create a skewed sense of whether ‘benevolent’ work even should be paid.

Low pay has long-term ramifications. Many recruitment processes demand the applicant’s past salary, either in application forms or during salary negotiations. Having received low pay in the past increases your likelihood of being underpaid in comparison to peers even as you rise in your career. One’s individual bargaining power is all the more difficult to leverage when from a minoritised population, where your skills, expertise, and labour are likely to be devalued in comparison to your peers. Minoritised staff will generally contribute untold hours as volunteers to improve their working conditions, whether bargaining for their pay or for measurable commitment to equality. Even a Living Wage is stretched when we take into account the full extent of a worker’s labour.

In 2021, it’s shocking that we are speaking of in-work poverty in the present tense. As a committee member, I look forward to engaging different stakeholders in meaningful shared activity and dialogue on addressing low pay and working conditions. A real Living Wage for the Third Sector is a vital first step, although it is not the overarching ambition. Our goal is fair pay, on which people can thrive and not solely survive. I am glad to be involved in the team creating the strategy for this critical work.

 
19th April 2021
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