It’s Living Wage Week, which means new rates have been announced for the real living wage (£8.75 an hour across the UK and £10.20 in London), and it’s when organisations throughout the country take time to celebrate the value and importance of paying workers a basic salary they can live on.
That’s what the living wage is all about – being able to live on what you earn. It should be a simple ask.
In fact, in 2017, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, it should be a given. Yet every year unions are forced to demand – once again – that businesses pay decent wages and end poverty pay.
Shamefully, it isn’t just the private sector where this is a problem. The public sector is also guilty of paying wages that force many of those who support our communities to the brink – though admittedly that’s because the government has held back or cut the cash available to the NHS and local councils.
The lowest hourly rate in local government is just £7.78, and while NHS workers in Scotland and Wales are guaranteed the real living wage, most NHS workers on the lowest pay bands in England (catering assistants, porters, cleaners and pharmacy assistants) are paid less than £8.75 an hour.
That’s far too many public servants – those who we could not do without – being forced to live on a salary that leaves too many unable to make ends meet.
It’s completely unacceptable, and should outrage anyone who cares about our public services and those that provide them.
In just a couple of weeks, the government has an opportunity to act. Ministers can and must set aside the funds to end poverty pay in all public services, and deliver a real pay rise for all public service workers.
The time for kind words is over. It’s time for decent pay and above inflation wage rises – that’s the very least UNISON members deserve.