Birmingham — a ‘real living wage’ city?

West Midlands Police & Crime Commissioner, David Jamieson, speaking at the event (photo: courtesy of WMPCC)

This morning Birmingham City Council hosted a breakfast discussion introducing the Living Wage Foundation’s new Living Wage Places scheme.

The aim was to bring together businesses, local politicians, public sector organisations and members of civil society to discuss how we can work collectively to ensure everyone in Birmingham earns the Real Living Wage. The real Living Wage is based on the cost of living and is already voluntarily paid by over 5,000 UK employers. The UK real living wage rate is £9.00 an hour (outside London) and £10.55 inside London.

In Birmingham 25% of workers earn less than the real Living Wage, as set by the Living Wage Foundation, and for women that rises to over 30%. Almost half the local areas in Birmingham are in the most deprived fifth nationwide. In some areas of Birmingham over 50% of children are in poverty. Currently, only 102 employers in the WMCA area are accredited Living Wage Employers. If the 25% of low-paid workers in the city region received the real living wage this would result in a £560m boost to their pay packets and to the local economy, according to the Living Wage Foundation.

In March 2019 Dundee was announced as the first UK city to officially commit to the new Living Wage Places scheme with the Living Wage Foundation. An alliance of prominent employers launched an action plan setting out how they will work together on “Making Dundee a Living Wage City” in partnership with Living Wage Scotland.

Birmingham City Council would dearly love Birmingham to be England’s first real living wage city and the event brought together a cross-section of employers, civil society organisations, educational institutions, public sector bodies and politicians to begin discussing the first steps in how to make this happen. Speakers included: Liam Byrne MP, Cllr John Cotton, Lucy Bannister and Clare Goff from the Living Wage Foundation, Paul Faulkner of Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, Mary Vadaie of JM Security Systems and Lee Barron of TUC West Midlands.

The Living Wage Foundation recommends a standard ‘model’ for taking forward place-based campaigns on the real living wage. First, establish an action group of key players that want to work together — local authorities, employers, public institutions, civil society. Second, research the local low pay landscape. Third, develop an ambitious action plan with real, demonstrable targets.

Obviously, this is just the beginning and there is a huge amount to do, but it was slightly disappointing that the meeting didn’t discuss how an action group might be brought together. However and whenever this happens, though, it will be essential that social enterprise and the wider voluntary sector are represented and that we have champions in all the key sectors that can help drive forward this ambitious campaign.

This could be a really important initiative for Birmingham — a vital bit of the jigsaw in addressing low pay, entrenched poverty, and the continuing scandal of some of the biggest corporations’ and institutions’ pay packets effectively being subsidised by state benefits.

You can follow immediate developments on Twitter.

How to become a real living wage employer.

Birmingham UK. Freelance research, evaluation and policy consultant specialising in social enterprise and the third sector. I maintain the BSSEC blog and website

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