One of my proudest moments in politics was the day the cleaners at Islington Council were awarded the London Living Wage.
Overnight the women cleaning the Council Leader’s office went from being on £11,000 to £14,000 a year. Suddenly, we were on a journey to a fairer place. Once all directly employed staff were in receipt of the living wage, all companies contracted with the council were obliged to pay staff the Living Wage. The voluntary sector, the Aquaterra Leisure provider, some housing associations and tenant managed organisations made the pledge. Then we extended the challenge to large companies: Slaughter and May and Linklaters followed suit. Smaller businesses, like the Angel Business Design Centre, paid even their apprentices the Living Wage.
We’re still on that journey. The women (it’s mainly women) who wipe the drool from granny’s lips and feed our senior citizens who can’t feed themselves still don’t receive the Living Wage, despite my having one to one conversations with well paid Chiefs of groups like Care UK, one of the biggest care providers in the country.
This week the Living Wage rate went up to £8.80 an hour in London. I’m delighted that Labour nationally has announced that it will give tax breaks to companies which pay the Living Wage. In tough times this will help small business, save the public purse in benefit top up payments and make life for working people better. Even the Federation of Small Business has welcomed the idea.
We are all worried by the widening gap between working people and the wealthiest in London; we know that inequality is bad for all of us, not just those with no money in their pockets. Let’s get behind all employers who pay the Living Wage and roll on 2015, when they will be helped by a government that wants to see a well deserved pay rise for British workers.
Catherine West Labour’s candidate for MP Hornsey & Wood Green
(Islington Labour Leader 2004-2013)