Living Wage motion speech – Cllr Sandy Martin

Mr Chairman,

I understand that Suffolk County Council’s administration intends to introduce the Living Wage as a minimum for all its direct employees, and our party welcomes and supports that. The vast majority of council workers on less than the Living Wage in 2010 are now outsourced, which makes the decision a bit irrelevant, but nonetheless, for the handful of directly-employed staff who will see their pay rise as a result, this is an important step forward. And it shows that the Conservative administration recognises the validity of the concept of the Living Wage. I would like this motion to be seen firstly as an affirmation of that policy decision from the whole Council.

But secondly, and more importantly, we are calling on the administration to move towards accreditation with the Living Wage Foundation, and that depends on having a programme to require all our contractors to introduce the Living Wage too.

The Living Wage figure is not plucked out of the air. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Centre for Research in Social Policy – with the support of principal partners such as KPMG and Aviva – have interviewed low paid workers, established what elements are required for a reasonable life, and priced them.

The current figure for the UK outside London is £7.65 per hour. From the 1st October the Minimum Wage will be £6.50 per hour. So someone on the Living Wage will get £1.15 per hour more than they would on the Minimum Wage. Not an enormous difference you may think – but for someone earning less than £16,000 a year it is an enormous difference. It could be the difference between having a holiday or not. It could be the difference between buying the children new shoes or not. It could be the difference between having to claim housing benefit or not.

Apparently, the UK economy is now growing, but there are a very significant number of people who are not benefitting from that growth. They are the people who were most heavily penalised by the recession, and who were least responsible for causing it in the first place. Low paid workers now outsourced by this authority and employed by companies that depend on contracts with this authority have seen almost no significant pay rises since the start of the recession. A face-value freeze is in fact a cut. The lowest-paid worker has seen the value of their annual pay fall by £1,775 since 2010. We are still punishing the cleaners for the irresponsibility of the city bankers.

How can it possibly be right to say that we have a duty of care to a care worker who is employed by Suffolk County Council, and so will pay them enough to live on, but then say that because the name on their pay-slip has changed from SCC to Care UK we suddenly have no responsibility to care for them at all? They are the same person with the same needs. They are doing the same job. They are even being paid by the same people, ultimately.

We know full-well what the Conservatives will say, because they have been saying it over and over again whenever wages are mentioned. This authority could not afford to supply the same level of services if it had to pay more, and would have to employ less staff. And this is council-tax-payers’ money and we have a duty to obtain the best possible value for the council-tax-payer.

These are the same arguments that were made against the introduction of the minimum wage. They are essentially the same arguments that were made against the Factory Acts in the 19th century, and against the abolition of slavery.

A contractor can’t pay their staff a decent wage if the contracting party is willing to switch to another provider that pays less and charges less. If an individual buys the cheapest possible clothes they will be promoting indentured labour in appalling conditions. If you decide to buy the cheapest possible social care you are responsible for promoting subsistence pay in the care sector.

Mr Chairman, if someone is working they should be paid for that work. They should not have to claim benefits. They should feel that their work is rewarded. They should expect society to recognise their contribution. We cannot change the whole of society overnight. But we should want to be doing the right thing ourselves.

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