Reflections on the Living Wage Movement by Sandy MacDonald

I’ve spent most of my career in financial services. It’s an industry that can have a huge, positive impact in society and in people’s lives, but that’s reliant on people having enough money and security to be included in the system and able to plan for their and their family’s futures.

When we first set up the Living Wage accreditation leadership group in Scotland, there were less than 30 accredited employers in Scotland, and we pushed for a target of 100 in the next year. There are now over 2,400 Living Wage accredited employers in Scotland, and more than 52,000 workers in Scotland who’ve had a pay rise through accreditation and whose pay keeps pace with the cost of living.

Since 2013, I’ve been lucky to work on developments such as the Living Wage Funder steering committee and the Living Hours project steering group, expanding the Living Wage Places scheme, and I was Chair of the Living Wage Scotland leadership group for several years as we worked across sectors to grow the movement in Scotland.

All the way through, it’s been clear to me how special the Living Wage movement is. It’s a movement that spans sectors and creates passionate advocates from all walks of life. We’ve had ongoing support from the Scottish Government, and politicians of all parties north and south of the border have taken time to encourage the Living Wage in their constituencies or through programmes and committees they’re involved with. I’ve met and learned from some brilliant, inspiring people on different living wage committees. Huge businesses like Aviva, KPMG and SSE alongside amazing small businesses like Utopia computers and Mercat Tours will tell you about the difference it makes – some universal benefits and also some specific to their organisation. Local councils and councillors from Dundee to Eildon and Islington will tell you about the impact at community level. In the third sector, funders like People’s Health Trust, and charities like Young Scot and Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home have unique and inspiring insights. It’s been a pleasure to work together with each and every one of them on this common cause.

The past year and a bit has seen two developments especially important to me personally – the launch of Living Hours, and Edinburgh launching as a Living Wage City. I was a member of the Edinburgh Poverty Commission that looked at all aspects of poverty and inequality in the city, and most of the people we spoke to who are trapped in poverty in the city I live in, and love, were working.

We talk a lot in this country about work being a route out of poverty. People seemingly ‘just need to work harder’. Many of you will know the story of how the Living Wage started, 20 years ago now – people in the east end of London working two or more jobs to try and get on. But it didn’t pay off no matter how many hours they worked, and their efforts ruined their family life.

This promise of work helping you escape your circumstances and background, does not stack up unless that work pays a fair wage as a minimum. And to really support social mobility that’s only the start – it really needs to be genuinely fair work that offers security and predictability, training and progression, has a culture of respect and supports people to thrive and give of their best.

And it remains true that some demographics – women, younger people, those with caring responsibilities, care experienced, racialised communities, people with a disability, are more likely to suffer from insecure and low-paid work. A Living Wage Foundation report earlier this year, “The Insecurity Complex: Low Paid workers and the growth of insecure work” highlighted that there are 6.6m workers in insecure work in the UK, and this includes 3.7m who are in insecure work and earning below the Living Wage. These account for 21 per cent and 12 per cent of UK workers respectively (including self-employed workers).

This isn’t just academic – going back to the Edinburgh Poverty Commission – it came up time and again in our conversations with citizens experiencing poverty and it has such a corrosive impact in people’s lives. We heard how poorly paid, insecure work is responsible for other challenges people have with housing, childcare, and family management, mental health and wellbeing, and more. If employers don’t pay people enough to live on, the costs don’t just disappear and evaporate into thin air. They manifest elsewhere – health, welfare, the need for food banks, poor educational attainment.

I’m grateful to the people who shared their stories with us on the Edinburgh Poverty Commission. There’s still too much stigma attached to poverty in this country. It’s incumbent on us to respect, listen to and act on the voices of the people who’ve shown the courage and generosity to share their insights, who know best about the impact it has, and who speak up so we can do better.

I love celebrating Living Wage Week and Living Wage employers. We need this now more than ever – we’ve seen how reliant we all are on key-workers over the past two years in hospitality, care, retail, charities. And we’ve seen how inequalities that existed before Covid have been exacerbated, so that some demographics have been hit much harder than others. As the cost of living rises, we can do something constructive, that we know works, to ensure all those workers and their families are not left behind. We can use the opportunity of this time of change and rebuilding to do things better.

And for me, this is the thing about the Living Wage movement –

If you care about mental wellbeing

If you care about good business

If you care about equality, diversity and inclusion

If you care about fairness and opportunity

It pays you back on every level, working together across sectors at a system level, and also having a direct and meaningful impact in people’s lives.

That’s why it takes people, like me, on a journey from their first interest to becoming passionate advocates.

Thanks again, to the team at Living Wage Scotland for the recognition. A huge well done to all the employers who were recognised at the recent Living Wage awards. And thank you to all Living Wage employers and activists who are part of this special movement. Let’s keep growing, keep listening and learning, keep moving forward. I’m very proud to stand alongside all of you.

Sharing is caring!