Living Wage campaign links community with politics and business
by Jessica Goble
Living Wage campaign links community with politics and business, says Jessica Goble
As a programme officer for the Living Wage Foundation, the point that most struck me from Rethinking Poverty was the harnessing of energy at community level to create meaningful change: ‘The Trust research suggests that there is much energy at community level to contribute to society, but it is difficult to connect this to the established systems of governance’ (p 41).
At the Living Wage Foundation – the independent movement of businesses, organisations and people who believe a fair day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay – I believe we have achieved the creation of a link between that vast pool of community energy and the established systems of governance, be they business or political forces.
The framework on which the foundation is built connects community energy to businesses all over the UK. The Living Wage campaign was launched by members of London Citizens in 2001. The founders were parents in the East End of London, who found that despite working two or more minimum wage jobs they were struggling to make ends meet and were left with no time for community and family life.
It was their voice that created the Living Wage campaign, working alongside Unison and Queen Mary University to map low pay in East London. Supporters held rallies and charity music gigs, as well as coming together to march down Mile End road, calling on East London hospitals to pay all their staff the Living Wage, including outsourced cleaners, caterers and security guards. These hospitals were among the first to sign up to the Living Wage, alongside local schools and big City firms.
In addition to calling on organisations to pay the Living Wage, members of Citizens UK chapters succeeded in persuading the Mayor of London to champion the Living Wage in a major public assembly in 2004. Community leaders and workers began to negotiate to make sure large-scale projects in the capital were paying the Living Wage to everyone working on them – including at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
In 2011, the Living Wage Foundation was created in order to accredit organisations who pay the independently calculated Living Wage rates to all their employees, whether they are directly employed or third party contracted staff. These Living Wage rates are different to the government’s minimum wage for over 25s – the national living wage (NLW).
We build relationships with organisations from all industries – from Comic Relief to Aviva, via IKEA and Nestlé – all because of a community-based campaign. The fact that the campaign enjoys cross-party support, with public backing from successive London mayors and MPs across the four nations of the UK, demonstrates the power and relevance of the movement in linking a campaign that began in community organising to the political powers in the UK. We continue to work with Citizens UK chapters across the UK to promote the ‘real Living Wage’ within communities.
The Living Wage Foundation unites the institutions of civil society, business and politics, and enables them to work together to ensure all workers can live a life with dignity. As celebrated in Rethinking Poverty, our approach is one of ‘power with not power over’ to create and maintain relationships with these institutions, and have proven that it is an extensible resource that continues to grow alongside the Living Wage movement. We have the ability to push through meaningful change – will you join us?
Jessica Goble is a programme officer at the Living Wage Foundation
Read more from the Rethinking Poverty discussion forum:
- Rethinking Poverty? We shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater – Kate Green, MP for Stretford and Urmston and a trustee of the Webb Memorial Trust
- A narrative that resonates for single parents – Gingerbread Chief Executive, Rosie Ferguson
- Imagining a new future – former Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust Secretary, Stephen Pittam on Rethinking Poverty