Blog: The Living Wage increase – still a long way to go on fair pay

But we shouldn’t be under any illusion – by itself the Living Wage does not offer a long-term solution to a UK labour market characterised by low pay, persistent gender and ethnicity pay gaps, and obscene levels of inequality

Christina McAnea

Living Wage Week is the annual celebration of the Living Wage movement. It’s always a good time for us to take stock, as UNISON has a long history of campaigning for a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s (or night’s) work, to prevent in-work poverty and exploitative low wages.

This week, the new Living Wage rates were announced. This means a pay increase for about 300,000 working people – up 40p to £9.90 across the UK, and £11.05 in London.

There are now 9,000 real Living Wage employers, but we have much further to go and there is much more to do to eradicate low pay in the UK.

Low pay is still a fact of life for too many, as close to five million people are still paid below the real Living Wage. It’s no surprise that two-thirds of them are women, as women dominate careers that are notoriously underpaid and undervalued, such as caring, cleaning and catering.

This structural sexism is clear to see in the social care workforce, where 73 per cent of workers are paid below the Living Wage.

In the context of cuts to Universal Credit, soaring household bills, and empty promises of levelling up and a high wage economy, the real Living Wage offers an important benchmark.

It is at least benchmarked against inflation, it’s payable to all staff from the age of 18, and it remains significantly above the government’s highest minimum wage rate (NLW).

A full-time worker earning the real Living Wage of £9.90 an hour would earn £1,930 a year more than a worker earning the current government minimum.

But we shouldn’t be under any illusion. By itself the Living Wage does not offer a long-term solution to a UK labour market characterised by low pay, persistent gender and ethnicity pay gaps, and obscene levels of inequality.

We need a new deal, and UNISON is leading the campaign for a new deal for public service workers.

This can only be delivered when governments and employers view public services as drivers of the economy, with an employment bill that ends zero hour contracts, and puts workers’ rights at the heart of our recovery from the pandemic.

And of course, a resurgence of collective bargaining across the economy. If the Westminster government was serious about levelling up, it would already be delivering this new deal.