Would you be able to make ends meet if you earned less than £7.85 an hour (or £9.15 if you live in London)?
No, of course not. Nor can anyone else, as the Living Wage Foundation has shown.
Even the Tory prime minister, David Cameron, recognises that people who are paid just the minimum wage (£6.50, soon to be increased by 20p) need working tax credits just to live. The bill attached to tax credits is expensive for the treasury, who want to reduce it. It seems obvious to me that the way to do this is to make sure that people who work are paid a living wage in the first place.
A good place to start is with the wages of people paid directly from the public purse (national or local). Many councils across Britain, as well as central government departments, are now Living Wage employers: leading by example where they want other employers to follow for the good of everybody. You can find examples here. Other employers can be seen here.
But North Herts District Council will not be accredited as a Living Wage Council any time soon, despite paying its own employees the living wage - because the Tory administration of NHDC refuses point blank to even ask its contractors whether they in turn pay their employees a living wage. Simple enough you’d think. But NHDC Tories say that it is up to a company how much it pays its employees, even when those employees work on council contracts, paid for ultimately by public funds.
Not all Conservatives think like this. Some (in Northampton,for example) understand that paying a living wage benefits everybody. But our Tories are so stuck in their uberlibertarian ways that they refuse to ask a private firm how it uses public money to pay people to carry out public work.
Never mind that we are contracting out almost everything, from refuse collection (£3.7m net spend last year) to housing (£3.2m net spend) to the leisure and environment (£4.7m). Never mind that what we contract out is almost three quarters of the council’s total net spend. Never mind that the people who work on council contracts are as real as those on the council’s direct payroll, facing the same cost of living, just as likely to need state support if they don’t earn a living wage.
Never mind that our position with our contractors is such that Living Wage negotiation could be included when putting new contracts to tender or renegotiation of old ones (the contract for waste is up in 2017, for example). No: none of this matters to the Tories, so long as they keep their ideological purity and don’t ask private companies about the way they treat their workers.
And maybe these workers are treated well and paid decently for doing the jobs we need in our community. That would be great news. I’d be delighted to be the first to propose that NHDC apply for full Living Wage Employer accreditation. And if the administration won’t ask, the Labour party in North Herts wants to know
Please get in touch with any of your Labour councillors if you answer yes to both the questions below:
Do you work for Veolia, John O’Conner, North Herts Homes or any of North Herts District Council’s contractors?
Do you work full time but still need benefits just to make ends meet? Or know someone in your organisation who is paid less than minimum wage?
Your experience can help NHDC Labour make life better for those who work for our community.
Deborah Segalini, NHDC Councillor for Hitchin Bearton Ward