Op Ed: A Living Wage doesn’t just benefit the lowest-paid – it can help build a stronger society

Philosopher and social commentator Thomas Carlyle described the concept of a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work as the “everlasting right of man.”

But, more than a century later, this “everlasting right” has still not been realised – and questions around what constitutes “fair” pay remains.

The unacceptable truth is that, in 2018, around a quarter of all workers in Sheffield City Region are still paid less than the Living Wage – a wage calculated according to what people need to earn in order to make ends meet.

The Living Wage has recently been increased to £9 per hour, which is around 12% higher than the Government’s National Minimum Wage. Put simply, the legal minimum wage, of £7.83 per hour for those aged over 25, is not enough to live on.

As a society, we need to do more to help the lowest paid. People who care for our elderly, produce our food, look after our children and deliver the goods that we use every day. These are people who keep the cogs of our society turning. It is surely only fair and right – an everlasting right – that they should be able to cover their bills and feed their families.

But the fact that the National Minimum Wage has not kept up with the soaring cost of living means that around 145,000 working people right here in Sheffield City Region simply do not earn enough to cover the absolute basics of housing, transport, childcare, Council Tax and living expenses.

This is around 27% of all workers in our region. It is no surprise that this has a devastating impact on the lives of these hard-working people and their families, as well as being detrimental to wider society.

Low pay leads to a raft of problems. Polling carried out for the Living Wage Foundation found that more than a  third of people paid below the Living Wage have missed meals to save money and more than 40% have found themselves falling behind with household bills. A third of people paid below the Living Wage also said that their low pay has had a negative impact on their relationship with their partner. This stress and suffering erodes people’s livelihoods and is out of step with the basic principles of fairness and equality of opportunity that I believe should be central to society.

Research has proved that paying workers a proper wage, which meets the cost of living, is good for all of us. If a quarter of all low paid workers in the Sheffield City Region were given a pay rise to the real Living Wage, 36,250 people would see an average annual pay rise of £1,020, or an extra £20 a week.  This would make a real difference to families, as well as resulting in a huge £22 million boost to our local economy.

In these times of austerity and national political uncertainty, I understand that businesses may be wary about raising their expenditure on staff wages. But there are undoubted benefits. Evidence from the Living Wage Foundation shows that employees should be valued and invested in not viewed as a cost to be cut. Paying people higher wages has been proven to result in increased productivity, better staff morale, and a better reputation for the employer. This is in addition to the wider boost to the economy which also benefits local business.

The benefits to us all are clear.

That’s why I am determined, as Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, to do all I can to ensure people are paid the Living Wage.

I think that if you believe in something then you should role up your sleeves and do what you can to support it. I have committed to championing the Living Wage for all employees of the Sheffield City Region and those companies that we contract with.  I am delighted to announce that Sheffield City Region has become the 38th Living Wage accredited employer in the region.

This is an important signal that the organisation that I lead is willing to not just talk the talk but also walk the walk. Because together we can do our part to ensure that a Living Wage becomes an everlasting right for people in Sheffield City Region, not an unattainable dream.

by Dan Jarvis, Mayor of the Sheffield City Region