Author: Cyril Richert
It’s time for the audience to ask questions during the hustings organised in Battersea for the local election. A person stood up and suddenly several other individuals got up too.
“Hi, I’m Jess. I’m 18 and I go to a local secondary school. I’m standing with other local voters who, like me, care about fair pay. I know what it’s like to be in a family on the minimum wage, and it doesn’t cover the essential costs like rent and bills – which are now rising. The Real Living Wage – £11.05 per hour – is already paid by 23 out of 33 London Councils and would make a massive difference to low-paid workers locally. Will you and your party commit to Wandsworth Council becoming an accredited Living Wage employer if you’re elected this May, setting an example to local employers and making sure all workers providing services to the council – including those who are subcontracted – get a Real Living Wage?”
This action was part of a global campaign organised by Wandsworth Citizens, a local alliance made up of faith communities, schools and community groups in the borough. This group is linked to Citizens UK, a national organisation which has launched the Living Wage campaign (LLW) in 2001 and since then has won over £1.3 billion of additional wages, lifting over 260,000 people out of working poverty.
The Living Wage is an hourly rate, calculated according to cost of living in the UK by the Living Wage Foundation. This rate is significantly higher than the Government minimum for over 23, which currently stands at £9.50 per hour.
Workers who are paid the Living Wage are more financially secure – they are more able to pay rent, buy food and pay taxes – as it’s designed to better reflect the cost of living.
The UK Living Wage is currently £9.90 per hour. The London Living Wage is currently £11.05 per hour. The calculation takes into account a basket of essential goods and services and provides the amount a worker should earn to give their family a basic but acceptable standard of living.
Becoming a LLW accredited Council means that not only your own staff is paid the minimum LLW, but also all the contractors you work with.
Richmond became accredited in 2019
On 1 October 2016, Richmond and Wandsworth Councils launched a Shared Staffing Arrangement, to deliver substantial savings to preserve front-line services. At that time, all seemed great with the Tory administration of Wandsworth as Richmond was also controlled by the Conservatives.
Unfortunately for Wandsworth, it all changed a the 2018 local election and Richmond became Liberal Democrats. Richmond Libdems decided to review all wages paid to their staff, but also to their contractors, with the aim to have all of them paid at least the minimum London Living Wage.
Nine months later, the new elected Council approved a motion proposed by the Green Party to become a LLW accredited Council:
“Council welcomes the fact that the London Living Wage is already paid to all directly employed staff. A condition of becoming an Accredited Living Wage Employer is to develop a plan to extend the Living Wage / London Living Wage (as applicable) to staff working for contractors. Council will develop a costed plan for consideration by the Finance and Cross Cutting Committee with a view to ensuring all future contracts allow for the Living Wage / London Living Wage (as applicable) within the lifetime of the contract. Council hopes that these actions will promote a greater take up of the London Living Wage across all borough employers.”
In November 2019, 19 months after taking over the Council from the Conservatives, it was done and Richmond became an accredited LLW Council. This Accreditation means that new contractors who work for the Council will also pay staff the Living Wage.
Wandsworth Conservatives are still reluctant to commit to becoming an accredited Council
Despite seeing Richmond becoming an accredited LLW council 2.5 years ago, Wandsworth Conservatives appear to decide it was better to save money and not commit to such change. Although the Council’s own staff is already paid the LLW, this is not the case for their contractors, which Wandsworth Council is using extensively.
As reported in the Guardian, Wandsworth Labour group has pushed several time since 2018 for Wandsworth Council to pay the minimum wage, but their motions have always been blocked by the Conservatives. The Wandsworth Guardian wrote:
“Council leader Cllr Ravi Govindia has previously refused to do this, in a response to a question from Labour councillor Jo Rigby in July. He said the council ‘should not have a policy of intervening in the external market”, and it should be for the contractors to work out what they need to pay their staff to meet the council’s “very clear expectations’. Cllr Govindia also said that, because he did not have any data showing the contractors live within the borough, it falls outside the council’s sphere of interest – improving the quality of life of Wandsworth residents.”
In a recent hustings organised by the Battersea Society and the Katherine Low Settlement, Conservatives Councillor Jonathan Cook confirmed that the Council will only ‘encourage’ its contractors to pay the LLW. In the following hustings, organised this time by the Putney Society, on Monday 11 April 2022, Conservatives Cllr Locker explained that paying the LLW would only be one of the criteria considered when choosing a contractor, without any commitment to enforce the measure and therefore without the purpose of becoming an accredited LLW Council.
The Conservatives are the only party in Wandsworth refusing to demand their contractors to pay the LLW. The Green, Labour and Libdem parties are all committed to get the Council accredited LLW should they win the next election. Wandsworth Labour manifesto 2022 is clear:
“We will pay all council workers – whether on our staff or with a contractor – at least the London Living Wage of £11.05 an hour. […] We’ll encourage other employers in Battersea, Putney and Tooting to follow our example.”
So far 23 out of 32 London Councils (+ the GLA) are accredited by the London Living Wage Foundation to pay their contractors the London Living Wage:
- City of London
- Enfield Council
- Royal Borough of Greenwich
- Hammersmith & Fulham
- Richmond upon Thames
- Tower Hamlets
- Waltham Forest
- Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
- Kingston upon Thames
- City of Westminster
In the meantime. the Evening Standard wrote a few months ago:
“Almost 70 per cent of jobs in London held by 18 to 21-year-olds pay less than the London Living Wage as the capital struggles to contend with a youth unemployment crisis.”
Islington has launched last year a commitment to become north London’s first Living Wage Borough, which means that not only the Council staff and its contractors but also everyone working in the borough in any job should be paid the London living wage.