Waging war on low pay

A living wage can lift families out of poverty.

A living wage campainger in 1972
A living wage campainger in 1972. Photograph: Getty Images

Living Wage Week begins on Monday 5 November. Trade unions, businesses, charities, universities and other organisations will come together to celebrate the living wage and to discuss further ways of promoting the campaign. The new, independently calculated rates for London and the UK will be announced and the latest list of accredited employers revealed.

Ed Miliband talked in his conference speech in Manchester about a “one-nation” economy, in which everyone has a stake and prosperity is fairly shared. Our government, employers, employees and civil society need to work together to build this. The living wage campaign gives us a perfect example of this principle in practice.

We are seeing impressive numbers of employers sign up. Far-sighted businesses are increasingly aware of the great benefits that come from paying a living wage. Studies by the Greater London Authority and Queen Mary, University of London found clear evidence that employers have benefited across a wide range of areas. Companies such as KPMG have seen higher worker morale, motivation and productivity and a reduction in staff turnover and absenteeism. By giving workers a fair deal for a day’s work, the living wage improves the relationship between employee and employer.

The Labour Party is also part of this movement. Rather than acting as a passive opposition, Labour councils across the country are leading the way in making a commitment to their staff, who play such a vital role in keeping local services running. It is not easy for local authorities to find the money in these tough times, but Labour councilors are showing that, even with less money around, it is our party that can advance the causes of fairness and social justice.

The campaign for a living wage is a powerful symbol of the kind of change that Labour wants to see in our economy. It is about offering people dignity in work, protecting the most vulnerable in society and laying the long-term foundations towards building a more stable economy and cohesive society.

Heavy lifting

A living wage can lift families out of poverty, helping them become less reliant on private debt or state benefits. For many hard-working people, this modest rise in their income can help stop the sleepless nights spent worrying about tomorrow’s meal or next month’s rent. A cleaner who had previously worked two jobs just to provide food for his family and pay the rent tells of how a living wage has allowed him to prioritise one job and also set up a youth group in his community.

But the campaign is also about the type of our economy we need to succeed. This coalition government believes that measures to erode workers’ rights and make it easier for employers to sack staff will support our economy. Labour’s vision is different from the Conservatives’ race-to-the-bottom approach.

We want to raise standards in our labour market, to create a route to a higher-skilled, higher-waged and higher productivity economy that delivers rising living standards and sustainable growth and expands opportunities for all.

The living wage helps protect those at the bottom now, while laying the road to a more sustainable and fair economy in the future. That is why Ed Miliband and the Labour Party will continue to champion this important cause.

Rachel Reeves is MP for Leeds West (Labour) and the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury