The Big Issue in Scotland
Supporters encouraging both public and private sector employers to bring in a minimum wage of £7 an hour hope momentum is still building following the Scottish Government’s decision to guarantee all its workers £7 an hour from August.
The move has already been backed by Glasgow City Council, which signed up last year, and Scottish Enterprise, which agreed the same minimum with its staff last month. More than 100 housing associations in Scotland have also recently agreed to introduce a £7 an hour wage for staff – more than 2500 employees.
Housing minister Alex Neil said he was "proud" of the Scottish Government’s involvement and said making work pay was essential if people are to escape the cycle of poverty. Mr Neil declared: "People have a right not to be dependent on benefits, and to make progression into work…It's not just about getting access to employment, it's about getting access to reasonably well-paid employment if people are to escape the poverty trap.”
The Scottish Living Wage campaign was launched by the STUC, Unison, Church of Scotland and the Poverty Alliance in a bid to persuade employers to raise the salaries of low paid staff, many of whom still struggle to keep their families out of poverty on the national minimum wage of £5.93 an hour.
Yet some fear impetus could be thwarted by spending cuts, as councils across Scotland try to reduce wage bills and introduce salary freezes. The right-wing pressure group Taxpayers’ Alliance has deemed the idea of local authorities raising wages at the bottom as “disgraceful” profligacy that will create “a wage apartheid between the public and private sectors”.
STUC general secretary Grahame Smith urged government at all levels to consider the economic benefits of putting money in pockets of low paid employees. “Paying workers a decent living wage reduces benefits claims. The cuts that the UK Government are intent on delivering will hit those who can least afford to suffer - the low waged, part time workers many of whom are living on poverty wages and (need) access to benefits to survive. Cuts across the public sector are wrong, will push those already living in poverty closer to the edge.”
Rev Ian Galloway, convener of the Kirk’s Church and Society Council, added: “There’s Bible proverb which says: “Give me neither poverty nor riches - give me just enough to satisfy my needs That’s why we support the living wage – it helps people towards a better standard of living. I’m aware that there are some churches that aren’t yet living wage employers. We still have work to do to convince people across the board of the necessity of a living wage.”
All five candidates for the Labour leadership have backed the living wage campaign, all though some stopped short of endorsing a significant rise in the national minimum wage. Andy Burnham pledged introducing a living wage in the public and private sectors “will be a priority” under his leadership. David Miliband said a living wage could “complement the national minimum wage”. Ed Miliband said Labour members “can and should campaign to raise the wages of the lowest paid employees in shops and banks as well as councils”.
Advocates of the campaign argue that as well as trying to eliminate poverty for the lowest paid in the public sector, a higher minimum wages makes good business sense for private firms. Barclays, who have signed up to the living wage, claims to have seen real benefits in lower staff turnover and higher productivity.