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I was the Head of Policy and Public Affairs at UNISON Scotland until my retirement in September 2018. I now work on several policy development projects, so all views are very definitely my own. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Living Wage

The Scottish Living Wage Campaign held a conference in Glasgow yesterday. A really useful event that brought together a range of interested groups to hear the latest research and to discuss practical ways to take the campaign forward. The conference also announced an increase in the Living Wage to £7.15 in line with the latest research.

Dr Kendra Strauss from Glasgow University introduced her research report showing that 20% of women and 15% of men earn less than £7 per hour in Scotland. More surprising was the finding that nearly half of adults and children living in families with low incomes were in working rather than workless households. On a day when the new UK Work and Pensions Secretary made a major policy speech on poverty, without even mentioning low pay as a factor, this finding is very significant.

Less surprising is that rural local authorities had the highest proportion of low paid workers with Glasgow and Dundee the worst urban areas. Women and young people are worst affected and the problem is sectorally segregated, with the food and beverage industry paying the lowest rates. A fifth of all those in low pay are directly employed in the public sector (mostly women) and that doesn't include contractors. Yet CoSLA doesn't believe there is a problem!

Richard Leonard put the issue into its historical context, reminding us that a key platform of the ILP was a living wage, along with Wheatley, Maxton and others who campaigned on this issue. He also pointed to the public subsidy low wage employers get from the taxpayer, not least through the £1.3bn in tax credits to the low paid in Scotland. Plus a useful reminder that low pay is often linked to a lower package of benefits including pensions. One in four low paid workers do not have an occupational pension scheme and those who do receive very modest pension payments on retirement.

Deborah Littman gave us an insight into the campaign methods used by the London campaign and the second half of the conference focused on how we can use this experience in Scotland. There was a clear understanding that whilst national political engagement is important, we also need to support the local campaigns. This should include direct campaigning with local employers. The London campaign has made a credible business case for the living wage that we can adapt in Scotland.

UNISON Scotland has been a key supporter of the Scottish Living Wage and we will be looking at how we can step up our activities in support of the campaign.

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