The release of the Paradise Papers during Living Wage week is something of a stark reminder of the inequality that still exists in the UK.
While the wealthiest in society are able to stash money overseas, many are still fighting to receive a fair wage for a day’s work.
Living Wage week is about the real living wage, set to rise to £8.75, and it also gives us an opportunity to think about the future of work. While we celebrate the 1,011 living wage employers in Scotland, we must also remember there is a lot more to be done.
430,000 employees in Scotland are still paid below the living wage and in-work poverty remains prevalent in the Uk – 55% of people living in poverty are from a working family. We clearly need to push for more action.
Part of this means thinking about how we define poverty. It should be an outdated notion to think of poverty just in terms of the inability to meet their minimum needs (such as food). Instead, we should also consider the ability to participate in society, the other essentials most of us take for granted.
Paying the living wage is not just a moral issue. It also makes good business sense, with evidence showing that staff are more likely to stay at your organisation, morale is better and productivity is improved.
For consumers, the living wage accreditation can be a motivation to shop with, or use the services of, a particular business (this is my excuse for buying a dress from Oliver Bonas this week…). With 90% of consumers agreeing that pay should reflect living costs, there is potential to encourage change with our shopping habits too.
Today, on Equal Pay Day, it’s also worth remembering the importance of this agenda for women. At April 2017 22% of women were earning less than the living wage compared to 14% of men. Women also make up the majority of all employees who earn below the living wage, currently at 63% – a figure that has remained largely unchanged since 2012.
We know that women’s employment tends to be more precarious. 40% of low-paid workers are women working part-time, and women are more likely to be in informal and temporary work. The sectors in which women workers are concentrated also tend to be low-paid ones.
I’m glad we’ve had this week to celebrate the Living Wage, but we shouldn’t be complacent while low pay remains a feature of employment in Scotland. Poverty affects us all and as always, we need actions, not words.
Earlier this week, I listened to Gordon Brown speaking about his new book at Glasgow University. In talking about the challenges facing Britain today he noted that ‘we cannot be secure, when so many are insecure’.
For me, this embodies why the living wage and fair work should be an issue for us all. Surely fair wages are a mark of a good society? While work does not pay and in-work poverty remains rife, I don’t see how we can be a secure, productive and happy society.