19 December 2011

Labour delivers a London Living Wage for Southwark

Great news for anyone interested in the campaign to end poverty wages in London. Southwark's Labour run council has given a cast iron, fully funded commitment to pay all staff providing services on behalf of Southwark Council a London Living Wage. The pledge came in recently published Southwark Cabinet documents which can be found here (page 24).

The London Living Wage (LLW) was introduced in 2005 by Mayor Ken Livingstone to provide a voluntary marker, above the National Minimum Wage, to stop working Londoners from falling into poverty.  The level is set each year by the Mayor's Living Wage Unit.  The introduction of LLW followed a very long and determined campaign by numerous organisations, most notably London Citizens.

In November 2008 Southwark's Council Assembly passed a motion (with cross party support) to pay all staff the London Living Wage including, crucially, all contracted out staff.  A higher proportion of directly employed local authority staff in London are paid at or above LLW, not least because so many of the lowest paid jobs have been outsourced to private contractors.  However, despite confirming their intention to implement the plan, Southwark's previous Lib Dem lead administration did not put forward any detailed plans to actually deliver the LLW.  I don't think it would be unfair to say that they liked the idea of paying a LLW but, as on so many other issues, didn't have the political will to see it through.

Following the election of a Labour Council in May 2010 Southwark became one of a minority of councils in London to pay all its permanent employees at or above the £8.30 level of the London Living Wage.  But this was clearly not enough.  Labour Councillors felt strongly that no member of staff delivering services to people in our borough deserved to be paid poverty wages.  That meant fulfilling the pledge to deliver on a Living Wage for contracted out staff.

The recently published papers state "Cabinet members have now asked that officers plan to bring all contracted staff up to this level over the next three years. Future new contract procurements will
contain the requirement for contractors to pay employees the LLW."  It goes on:

"Additional resources to support low paid staff arising from commitment made by council  assembly in setting three year budget in February 2011 (£375k),a new commitment to  support agency worker directive requiring parity pay rates with Council staff and the  requirement for external contractors to pay London living wage in contracts to be let or re-let  by the council in the future (£1m). The commitment to london living wage in contracts will require annual increases in budget provision over the period to 2015/16"

There are other councils in London paying LLW on their contracts (Islington and Lewisham) but Southwark is the first to have plans ensure everyone providing services gets paid at this minimum level.  Apart from the obvious moral case for paying people a wage which keeps them above the poverty line, there is also a strong argument that paying these wages will boost service quality, particularly in areas such as care for the elderly and vulnerable.  I strongly believe Southwark Council taxpayers will get better value for money as a result of this decision.

A huge amount of credit should go to Southwark's Labour Cabinet members for seeing through this commitment.  In particular, Cabinet Member for Finance Richard Livingstone and the Leader of the Council  Peter John have ensured this important issue was given sufficient priority.  This is a significant step forward for the campaign against in-work poverty and I hope it will act as a spur to other London Council's to do the same thing.

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