Monday, 9 March 2009

A Living Wage

Glasgow City Council, Scotland’s largest Local Authority, announced over the weekend that, as of the 1st of April, all its workers will be paid a minimum of £7 an hour.

This is £1.27 above the current minimum wage of £5.73 and works out at an annual income of £13,340 for a full-time worker.

It is estimated that the move will cost Glasgow City Council up to £1.2 million a year with 681 employees immediately benefiting.

It may seem perverse, at a time when councils across Scotland are struggling to balance their books, in part due to cutbacks imposed by the SNP Government. The reality though, is that not only is this the right thing to do, it also makes financial sense. The poorest people are likely to spend this money on food and other basics, which will go straight back into the local economy, and similar moves in London and Oxford have seen an increase in morale and productivity amongst workers and decreased absenteeism.

The introduction of the minimum wage was a huge achievement at the time, one we can continue to be proud of, but now we need to move on to the next logical step, the introduction of a national living wage.

People – 350,000 of them in Scotland – are bringing home wages that, even working full-time, are not enough to enable them to buy the basics. This is a gender issue too, 64% of low-paid workers are women, with women nearly 3 times more likely to be in low-paid employment than men.

The step Glasgow has taken should be applauded, but it’s not enough, this needs to be a national programme. We all know the arguments that were used to try to stall the introduction of the minimum wage a decade ago – it’s too expensive, people will lose their jobs, it will put employers off hiring – it wasn’t true then, and it’s not true now.

If people are being asked to do a job, it should pay them enough to live on. It’s that simple.

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