Church of England should lead the way on Living Wage

The Living Wage is not just about poverty, it's about dignity too

(Photo: Stephen Davies)

For political junkies who also happen to be Christians of the Anglican persuasion, the church and her biannual synod meetings can be almost as exciting as a couple of tasty by-elections. When the synod debates the possibility of the elevation of women to become Bishops, it can be as exciting as the US election.

While the synod has voted on that hot potato, there is an issue on the agenda which should have received much more attention than it has. On Wednesday there will be a debate about the Living Wage, something any Christian and most politicians should have no problem supporting.

Mr. John Freeman has moved a private members motion in support of the living wage, and particularly the christian values inherent in the concent. The motion also "strongly encourages all CofE institutions to pay at least the minimum wage". Freeman is right on both accounts.

First, the concept of the living wage should not be politically controversial and is certainly deeply Christian. Knee jerk reactions might about by right wingers jeering the concept because they may not have stopped to listen what it actually is, however.

The Living Wage is a measure of the basic cost of living and is voluntary, unlike the Minimum Wage which is mandated by law. The rate is calculated independently from those who campaign for it, either by the Greater London Authority (for the London rate, at £8.55 an hour) or by the Centre for Research in Social Policy (for the rest of the UK, the rate is £7.45). The Minimum Wage is currently set at £6.19 an hour.

The modern campaign for the living wage was started in 2001 when London Citizens, a community organising group made up of institutions which use the collective power communities can garner to implement betterment for themselves.

London Citizens found that many people who wanted to work had to work two jobs on the minimum wage to provide for their family. But this meant that they hardly had time for their family. I remember at one event before the General Election, London Citizens was able to get Gordon Brown to hear the story told by a young woman who said that she never got to see her mother because her mother could not afford to use the tube and had to work two jobs in two parts of London. Tear-jerking stories like this one must abound.

But the theology is also right behind the project. Its not just about poverty, but about the dignity of work. Research has shown that the quality of work increase when companies start paying the living wage, so it makes economic sense. But why wouldn't it? The head of employee relations at Barclays Bank said in 2009: "It means we have a retention rate of 92%, it makes business sense." Show people dignity and their work will be the work of a dignified person.

The other part of the motion will urge all CofE institutions to pay at least the Living Wage. That this has to be raised as a problem is a sad state of affairs, but the Church is moving in the right direction following other supporters of the proposal

Who else supports it? Well Boris Johnson backs it, Ed Miliband does too. And so does the Prime Minister. The campaign is supported by Aviva, KPMG, the Queen Mary University of London amongst others. With friends like these the Church would be in good company.

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