At this week’s meeting of Devon County Council’s Cabinet I seconded a motion by Devon’s only Green councillor, Jacqi Hodgson, asking the Council to sign up to the Ethical Care Charter proposed by UNISON. The Cabinet resolved ‘that the Council notes the requirements of the Charter and recommends officers work with its contracted providers to work towards its adoption having due regard to affordability, market sufficiency and quality of commissioned care.’ I have no illusions that the financially challenging parts of the Charter – such as paying the real Living Wage and providing sick pay for care workers – will be implemented any time soon. But the endorsement in principle is welcome and I asked that the Council regularly monitor progress in implementing the charter – the Leader, Cllr Hart, suggested this could be done by the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee.
Seaton Town Council has rejected my proposal that the town should follow the example of Bridport in West Dorset and Frome in Somerset and become East Devon’s first ‘Living Wage Town’.
Seaton Council already pays its own employees the Living Wage of £8.25 per hour set by the independent Resolution Foundation. The proposal would have meant that major Council contractors and collaborating organisations would be expected to pay the Living Wage. The Council would also have explored the promotion of the Living Wage among employers in the town, through discussions with the Chamber of Commerce, trade unions and others.
These ideas were voted down by 6 votes to 2. Opponents mainly emphasised the difficulties the Living Wage would cause for businesses like shops and care homes. I think this is short-sighted: businesses that pay the Living Wage report better value and commitment from their workers.
Councils large and small are promoting the Living Wage. London Mayor Boris Johnson says, ‘Paying the London Living Wage is not only morally right, but makes good business sense too.’ (The London Living Wage is £9.40.)
East Devon is the 8th least affordable district in the country, with average houses prices 11 times average incomes (compared to the average of 8 times). Renters need to pay rent of on average 44% of their incomes (compared to 33%).
As benefits are cut, George Osborne’s ‘low-benefit, high-wage economy’ needs pay rises if the lower-paid are not to lose out. Seaton Town Council has missed an opportunity to do something for its less well-paid residents – and to put itself ahead of the rest of East Devon.
If we can promote bringing business to the town, why can’t we promote better pay for the people who help make it all happen?
NOTE. The Living Wage (currently £8.25) is set annually by the Resolution Foundation on the basis of independent research into living costs. It applies to all workers over 18 except apprentices. In contrast the Minimum Wage is £6.70. Although it is set to rise to £7.20 in April, when Mr Osborne will confusingly rebrand it the ‘national living wage’, it will still be less than what is needed to live, and applies only to people over 21.
However the Living Wage Foundation has announced that, based on research showing average living costs, the hourly Living Wage is now £8.25. This contrasts with the legal Minimum Wage, currently £6.70. This will still fall short even when it is increased to £7.20 early next year and misleadingly rebranded the ‘National Living Wage’ by George Osborne .
How many workers in Seaton fall short of £8.25 per hour? And what is to be done about it? Increasing wages to this level still won’t compensate many low-earners for the recent cuts to tax credits – but it would be a big step in the right direction.