Who described the Living Wage as “an idea whose time has come?”
David Cameron, Conservative British PM – that’s who.
The Living Wage concept has caught on in the UK and the US and it was great to hear David Shearer put Labour’s name to it yesterday.
Everyone wants to know who, how, how much and when. But the Living Wage concept isn’t just about having a policy on paper. It’s about a movement, where communities organise to persuade the people, politicians, the council and business that paying a living wage is the right thing to do.
A Living Wage is the level of income necessary to provide acceptable standard of living for a person and their family.
It’s different to the legal minimum wage, which provides a floor below which wages must not fall, but the minimum wage is not tied to a recognised standard of living. It’s a politically decided standard, that rises or falls depending on who is in government. Labour remains committed to lifting the minimum wage (at this stage to $15 an hour), but we can do better.
We need to get to a point where there is agreement about what is fair and what families should be expected to live on.
In the UK, London Citizens have been organising for ten years, bringing together community groups, faith based organisations, businesses, trade unions and politicians. In 2011, Citizens UK, (the nationwide equivalent of London Citizens) launched the Living Wage Foundation to respond to a growing interest in other cities.
The Living Wage was an election issue in the 2004 London Council elections, and London Mayor, “Red” Ken Livingstone established a dedictaed Living Wage Unit within the Greater London Authority in 2004. Boris Johnson, the conservative Mayor who followed him has continued the Unit and now all of London’s councils pay all workers, including directly employed, contracted or temporary workers at least the London Living Wage or above.
This year’s London Olympics will be the first Living Wage Olympics in history. Imagine that.
Governments can lead by applying a Living Wage to everyone who works for the State Sector. Councils can do the same on the basis that wherever public money is used to purchase goods or services, low wages should not be the competitive factor. In the US Living Wage Ordinances apply this principal.
The current London Living Wage of £8.30 an hour would roughly equate to roughly NZ$16-17 an hour. This took into account the prices of staple items in the family shopping basket, along with relativities with the median income, to estimate a ‘poverty threshold wage’, and then added a 15% margin on top to give some protection against unforeseen events.
Of course such an example can only broadly indicative – but it demonstrates just why a Living Wage, not just a Minimum Wage is needed.
I’m confident that a Living Wage movement will develop in New Zealand and the hows, the whats, the whos, the how muches, and all the rest of it will gather force before the next election. It will need political support, and Labour’s David Shearer has given it.
I’m not given to quoting conservatives, but as David Cameron said, it’s an idea whose time has come.