Celebrate the Living Wage
It's hard to believe it was nearly 10 years ago - in April 2008 - as an opposition Labour backbencher I proposed a motion that Preston City Council should pay the real living wage.
Back then the living wage was a relatively new phenomenon with Oxford City Council and the Greater London Authority (GLA) alone in local government embracing it.
What inspired myself and colleagues was the Living Wage Campaign consisted of a movement of trade unions, religious leaders and community organisations representing the interests of immigrant workers committed to end exploitation and raise wage levels. Many of the original campaigners worked in the square mile in London with two or more jobs on the legal minimum wage, cleaning the offices of high paid city executives who by contrast earned hundreds of thousands a year. This tale of two different worlds was striking.
Back in Preston, the council captured much of this spirit by formally agreeing to pay the real living wage in 2009 and the new Labour administration in 2011 worked to promote it as widely as possible. Early achievements included in 2012, Preston City Council becoming the first employer in the north of England accredited by the Living Wage Foundation.
We now have around 50 organisations in Preston accredited by the Living Wage Foundation and ourselves as a local authority. These include Community Gateway Association, Preston Bus (Rotala), Lancashire County Council, Cardinal Newman and Preston's Colleges, The Cooperative Bank, Richer Sounds, Lancashire Chamber of Commerce and Preston Citizens Advice Bureau - to name just a few. We are heartened and grateful for this support in tackling poverty pay by these and other employers who pay at least £8.45 an hour and the uprated amount announced in Living Wage Week 2017.
Many of you may have also seen coverage of what has been labelled "The Preston Model" recently. This is a collaborative approach across the local public sector to increase the amount spent on goods and services in Preston and Lancashire through open, transparent and competitive procurement that has seen an increase in contracts won fairly by local suppliers of £75m in Preston and £200m in Lancashire during a time of austerity. The majority of these placed based institutions are also Living Wage Employers, expanding significantly the number of people receiving it through their procurement practices.
Paying the living wage is an issue of significant relevance to women who, according to statistics, are more likely to work part time with 40% of part time employees in the UK paid less than the real living wage. Recent figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show Preston is now 2nd best out of 39 local authority areas for part time female employees receiving the living wage or more. The ONS also confirm Preston moved from 4th out of 12 Lancashire districts in 2011 to 1st in 2016 for wage levels of part time Lancashire workers - also outperforming the UK and North West averages. This is something we have achieved by the strength of our collective endeavour and should be extremely proud of.
Despite the government embracing a minimum of £7.50 an hour there still remains a difference of nearly £2,000 a year for a full time employee by embracing the real living wage. It also makes both moral and good business sense with studies showing paying employees well leads to advantages for business through increased productivity, retention and lower absenteeism.
This year we welcome new Living Wage Employers including Lush, Clevr Money and Remsol Ltd in Preston. Please consider joining them as a Preston based business, as it is essential for forward thinking organisations.
Together let's make Living Wage Week 2017 the best ever for workers in our proud city, many of whom still deserve a pay rise this Christmas.