Sentamu attacks 'scandal' of low wages

The Archbishop of York has challenged politicians to put their money where their mouths are and make the living wage a reality.

Dr John Sentamu has just taken up his new appointment as chair of the Living Wage Commission, which will spend the next 12 months looking at how the living wage can be implemented.

Writing in The Observer at the weekend, he said it was a "national scandal" that five million people in Britain are not being paid enough to live on. 

"Millions of people across the country will get up today, leave their families and travel to work to carry out jobs that we all depend on," he wrote.

"They will care for people, serve us food, clean the spaces that we all use and share. They will do more than a fair day's work, but they won't get a fair day's pay."

He said the consequences were "devastating", particularly for women, who form the majority of low-paid workers in Britain.

"Low pay threatens the great strides that have been made in gender equality in recent decades because it undermines women's economic independence. This is a huge loss for them and for society as a whole," he said.

The Archbishop said the low wage "crisis" was costing the Government £4bn a year in support for people in work.

"In the rush for profit, and for high pay at the top, too many companies have forgotten the basic moral imperative that employees be paid enough to live on," he said.

While there is broad support for the living wage among politicians, Dr Sentamu questioned why it had failed to materialise.

"At the end of the day, though, what workers really need is pay, not platitudes," he said.

"The reality is that despite these warm words, too few companies have stepped up to the mark. For the vast majority of low-paid people in the UK, the living wage remains an abstract concept, not a description of their pay rate."