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As Bishop of London this is why I am campaigning for a real Living Wage

The Rt Rev Mullally has vowed to be “a bishop of London but also for London”. / Max Colson
22 September 2022

ignity is something we all deserve. Workers should feel valued and respected, yet so many are being thrust into in-work poverty due to low pay.

Saint Paul reminds us that those who work earn their pay and the prophet Malachi proclaims that the Lord will “bear witness against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages”. Wages are not counted as gifts, but as what is due. If people are giving their employers a hard day’s work, do they not deserve a fair day’s pay – one that is high enough to meet their needs?

Low pay means that people struggle to afford necessities, like rent, bills or a grocery shop. Compounding this, the smaller unexpected expenses that life may bring offer big challenges to families who are already struggling to make ends meet. How can you be expected to replace a broken fridge or buy your child a new school uniform when you’re already having to skip meals to save money?

Sadly, the consequences of low wages go beyond the practical impact. The effect on people’s mental health adds to the crisis, with money stress stopping people from being able to enjoy life and thrive in their communities, as every bit of energy is geared towards surviving. Recent research by the Living Wage Foundation found that 69 per cent of workers earning below the real Living Wage said that their pay impacts both their levels of anxiety and overall quality of life. So, what can we do to take action?

I co-chair the steering group for the Making London a Living Wage City project, which aims to tackle in-work poverty in the capital and put £635 million back into the pockets of low-paid workers. Whilst wages are a major part of the movement, the campaign also seeks to tackle precarious work through Living Hours – a standard to help people get the hours of work they need to make ends meet and protect them from job insecurity.

The situation has only become more critical in recent months: we have seen in-work poverty become a significant fixture in our society as costs are continually rising, but wages aren’t catching up. Civil institutions are well placed to see the unfortunate fallout of this in our communities. With rising energy bills, food prices, and rent hikes, we encounter more and more families having to make impossible choices about which basic standard of living they need to compromise to survive.

Whilst local organisations like churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, foodbanks, and community groups are providing as much support as they can, we need to catch people before they fall into hardship. It’s more important than ever that businesses go beyond the minimum and pay their employees a real Living Wage that covers the true cost of living.

Before I became a priest I was a nurse. Healthcare workers have a special place in my heart. Whilst we’ve seen 450 newly accredited employers in London, low pay is a systemic problem within sectors like social care. London has the highest share of care workers paid below the real Living Wage of any English region. It concerns me deeply that those whose work is dedicated to caring for our loved ones are plagued with worry about how they will afford basics like their next food shop. It isn’t just, and it doesn’t treat them with the dignity they deserve.

Community leaders and Organisers from Citizens UK have been campaigning for a real Living Wage since 2001. At its core, this community-led movement is about giving low paid workers stability through a wage they can live off. Recently, hundreds of community leaders demonstrated outside two major healthcare headquarters in London, Bupa and Barchester Healthcare, urging them to accredit with the Living Wage Foundation and pay their care workers a real Living Wage.

Whilst paying the real Living Wage will not alone solve the cost-of-living crisis, employers who accredit with the Living Wage Foundation commit to paying all workers the only wage based on actual living costs, which is currently £11.95 in London. As Jesus remarks in Luke 10:7, workers are worthy of their wages. Now more than ever, employers must step up and do the right thing by paying a real Living Wage. People deserve to live – not just survive.

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