In 2006, Queen Mary became the first University in the UK to pay its staff the real living wage, leading on from a campaign of East Londoners working with the civil society, Citizens UK to get the living wage for workers at QM. Fifteen years on from this historically significant action at QM, what does it mean in real terms, and why is it important we know about the living wage?
The living wage sounds like something that should just be automatically the normal rate of pay for everyone in Britain, unfortunately, this is not the case. The living wage, is the amount of money required for people need to live on, it incorporates the cost of housing, bills, and food, as well as additional money needed for other issues. It is not the law and is different from the national minimum wage. Wages fluctuate with inflation and factors like business costs and taxation, but with this comes the change of costs in real terms living, both the minimum wage and the living wage changes are adjusted on a yearly basis, and can show us how much the cost of living in the UK has increased. The Living Wage Foundation, an organization established through Citizens UK to campaign for the increase in wages, calculates the comparison of living and minimum wage costs, as of 2021 the minimum wage, decided by the Government, stands at £8.72 per hour for over 25s, and £8.21 per hour for under 25s, while the estimated hourly rate for a living wage is £9.50 in the UK, and £10.85 in London itself. These comparisons of costs can shock when you consider how much this adds up in the long run. The Living Wage Foundation focuses on building relationships with corporations to give the living wage and provides those that opt-in as ‘Living wage employers’, an accreditation making them seem ethical employers who are good to work for. The foundation ethos is based on developing people’s power and providing an incentive for big businesses, such as IKEA and KPMG, to pay fairer wages to their employers. Since its humble beginnings in 2001, the Living Wage Foundation has been able to persuade almost 7000 companies to pay the living wage, 2158 of which are in London. It is uncalculatable how much of a difference this makes in ordinary, hard-working people’s lives, and it is incredible that a foundation can have such an impact.
Queen Mary has been a living wage employer leading the way for other universities and public sector employers with now 164 in London paying the living wage. Queen Mary often advertises its establishment as a living wage, and with the hardships, people are suffering right now, it is now more important than ever to discuss and promote a worthy cause. Though no employer is important, showing a dedication to a non-mandatory wage shows a commitment and care to help those who they employ. However, we do still have far to go, and in the 20 years since the campaign began, it is important to push those next steps to give the living wage to more employees. Hopefully, in less than 20, we can have a required living wage for all, more campaigning is needed, but the focus is to improve people’s lives, which is the most important thing.