One of the things I’m most proud of since becoming Leader is overseeing the introduction of the Living Wage for all council staff.
It came into effect on October 1 and is being paid at the level recommended by the Living Wage Foundation – which is £7.85 per hour. That is the “real” and independently set Living Wage, and is 65p per hour higher than the Government’s recently cobbled together “National Living Wage”, which doesn’t come into effect until next April. We’ll also be paying at least this amount to staff regardless of their age – whereas only those aged 25 and over will benefit from the Government’s “National Living Wage”.
We began to look at this many months ago, well before George Osborne’s recent announcement, because we wanted to do what we could to make the Knowsley pound that bit bigger in people’s pockets. Yes, we are facing budget pressures, but these are tough financial times for everyone. I don’t think it can be right that people work all the hours they can and still struggle to pay their bills or put food on the table. So I’m really proud that Knowsley is taking this stand and ensuring that all of our staff are paid a decent wage for the job they do, at a higher rate than the Government’s flawed National Living Wage and six months earlier too.
Implementing the Living Wage in Knowsley means that around 900 of our lower paid staff have just received a pay rise, and I hope this will help give them a better living standard. We’re now working with our partners in schools to encourage them to similarly adopt the proper Living Wage for their staff too, and it would be fantastic if we could encourage other employers in the borough to set a similar example.
Of course I recognise that there is a cost to businesses of raising wages. The same pressure applies in our case, but it shouldn’t stop us trying to do the right thing. As an organisation, Knowsley Council is facing a reduction in its funding of £31m over the next two years, yet I believe that giving our employees a decent standard of living is such an important priority that we must find the money for this. We would not be serving our communities properly if we did not set an example to other employers and failed to stand up for those low paid workers who are finding it hardest to make ends meet right now.
I’d love to hear examples of business in Knowsley who are stepping up to the plate and offering their lowest paid employees the same uplift in wages that we are. I’m sure they will find plenty of benefits to doing so – not least a rise in staff morale and retention! I know I will continue to champion the Living Wage when I am out and about meeting local employers – it can be done, as the council is demonstrating!