Public money shouldn’t be used to prop up poverty pay

Wednesday 26-10-2016 - 16:16

“No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country. By living wages, I mean more than a bare subsistence level — I mean the wages of a decent living.”

Some people still believe that the living wage – a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work – is a radical concept. It really isn’t. It was Franklin Delano Roosevelt who made this argument for a living wage over 80 years ago, back in 1933.

Yet for too many people in the UK and across the globe, low pay and exploitation is still a fact of life. For too many of our members, student support is inadequate as it is; low pay makes that struggle even worse.

The Living Wage campaign is about the right of individuals to live without fear of destitution. Over the past 20 years, living wage campaigns have got £70 million into the pockets of some of the most vulnerable in society and lifted 10,000 people out of poverty.

Living Wage Week takes place each year during the first week of November. 

This year’s Living Wage Week runs from Sunday 30 October to Saturday 5 November. It’s a celebration of what has been achieved, so it’s important to recognise and commend those who are showing leadership.

The Living Wage Foundation have set up a Thunderclap action which you can support below:

Universities from Aberdeen to Winchester, colleges from Plymouth to Norwich and students’ unions from Strathclyde to Falmouth have all become accredited Living Wage employers, very often thanks to the dedication and passion of student and trade union campaigners.

Even better, the power of the student movement campaigning for a living wage isn’t just limited to our students’ union and university or college staff. You can now use your commercial power to ensure that people across the world are being paid a living wage, and being 100% Fairtrade with our ethical clothing company Epona. In fact, many SU’s are now deciding to show their commitment to these ideals by only stocking clothing purchased through Epona. City SU in London has done just this and Keele SU has also passed a motion within their student council to do the same in the coming months.

But though we should celebrate this amazing work, there’s so much more still to do. We should be highlighting the lack of a living wage across the UK, and not pretend that the Tories are offering anything even close to fair pay rates with their so-called “national living wage”. We should be campaigning for all young people who are under the age of 25 and for all apprentices to receive the living wage, as the ‘national living wage’ doesn’t apply to younger workers or apprentices in their first year.

Within our universities and students’ unions we should be ensuring that we are paying the living wage, as public money should not be used to prop up poverty pay. We should be an example to the rest of society when it comes to workers’ rights and fair pay, so where it hasn’t happened yet, this is an excellent time to work with your local trade union and invite them to help campaign on such issues. And we can support local campaign groups to secure the living wage for other workers in the private, public and third sectors, like these campaigns in Brighton and Scotland.

Most importantly, we have to keep up the pressure. We’ve made astonishing progress in the last few years. But it took FDR five years to force his policy through, and the argument for a minimum wage in the UK was only won in 1997 when Tony Blair made it a key plank of his election manifesto. Yet the moral urgency of a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work is clear. Even David Cameron, a man who did so much to undermine fairness in our society, has said that the living wage is an “idea whose time has come.” We need to turn that idea into a reality for everyone.


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