St Paul's Institute

London Living Wage could be the biggest attack on poverty since creation of Welfare State

by Tim Thorlby

Posted: 02 Aug 2018

Today in London, 700,000 people work for a living and yet still live in poverty because they earn less than a living wage.

Resolution Foundation calculated that the amount you'd need to earn in order to be able to live in London is £10.20 an hour. At 30% higher than the Government's Minimum Wage, it's called a Living Wage because it's a wage you can live on. Almost 700,000 people and their families are earning less than this and are finding that it's simply not enough to live on in London.

There are good business reasons to pay the Living Wage: loyalty, motivation, retention. But for me the most compelling reason to pay the Living Wage is a moral case - if we believe that every human being is made in the image of God then people have more than just economic value, so we must not accept wage levels that leave people living in poverty.

Someone empties the bin in your workplace every day. They serve you. Do you know their name, and how much they are paid? We have a moral responsibility to check that they are being treated - and paid - well.

A couple of years ago, the church of St Andrew by the Wardrobe noticed that every morning, as tens of thousands of very well paid City professionals came to work, thousands of badly paid workers were going home. Two different worlds passed each other on the pavements, moving in different directions.

The church listened to the stories of the people going home early in the morning - stories of low pay, unstable income, and often quite poor working conditions - and asked 'what does good news look like for low paid workers in the City of London?' Then, with the Centre for Theology and Community, they set up ethical cleaning company Clean for Good set up to be good news for cleaners in London.

Our commitment to the Living Wage makes us one of the more expensive cleaning companies in London, but in just one year of operation we have secured customers across London and grown a turnover of a third of a million pounds. We operate in what is probably one of the city's most competitive and low-paid sectors, and if we can do it I am pretty sure others can do it as well.

The widespread adoption of the Living Wage across London would be the biggest attack on poverty since the foundation of the Welfare State, because it would lift 700,000 people and their families out of poverty.

The Living Wage is good news for all low-paid workers, and it requires no legislation or regulation. It doesn't even need to wait for Brexit. It can be paid by any employer right now, today. It is a voluntary act; a marvellous thing.

I would encourage every employer to pay it, whether you are a business, a charity or part of the public sector. No amount of philanthropy makes up for the lack of a living wage, because it's not a question of charity, it's a matter of justice: a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.

This article was based on a talk given by Tim Thorlby as part of the event '"The War on Wonga" - Five Years On' in partnership with Capital Mass, St Paul's Institute and Theos. You can find a video of Tim's talk here

About this author

Tim Thorlby is CEO of Clean for Good, a cleaning company which pays the London Living Wage, operates no zero hours contracts, and provides employment benefits.

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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of St Paul's Institute or St Paul's Cathedral.