The London Living Wage (LLW) has increased to £9.15, in recognition of how much more expensive it is to live in the capital than elsewhere. The recommended living wage for the rest of the country has risen to £7.85, over the minimum wage of £6.50 for adults over 21.
That's great news if you get the living wage but, as it's voluntary, only 429 companies in London are accredited living wage employers (a number that has doubled over the past 12 months). There are regular calls for the LLW to be made mandatory, which are equally regularly rejected. Of course, there'll be plenty of companies who pay over the living wage because all their staff are skilled enough to command decent salaries; really, the LLW applies to anywhere that employs cleaners, retail and food serving staff, etc. If you work for a large company, ever stopped to wonder how much the people who clean your desk and serve you lunch at the cafeteria get paid?
Despite the increase in sign-ups, more than a fifth of employed Londoners earn less than the living wage. The number earning below the LLW has been increasing: the Trust for London says that in 2007, 420,000 jobs paid below the LLW (when it was £7.25 an hour); in 2013, 640,000 jobs paid less than a living wage. The living wage is calculated to take living costs into account, so it seems fairly clear that, for many people, their pay is not increasing in line with prices.
What we find stunning is a fact unearthed by the London Assembly Greens, that more small businesses (123) pay the LLW than large businesses (110). Really? 123 companies with 50 employees or fewer have committed to decent levels of pay and gone through the faff of getting accredited, and there are still some major banks that haven't been arsed? The Greens calculate that 90% of London's big businesses aren't signed up to the LLW. At least two government departments (DEFRA and HMRC) haven't signed up to making sure subcontracted staff get a living wage. "As cleaning staff are employed by an external contractor who sets the terms and conditions of their employment, HMRC has no control over their pay," a spokesman told the Guardian. Yes, you do: hire an agency that pays the LLW. It's really very simple.
As we've seen in the past, the minimum wage isn't nearly enough to live on and raise a family in London (we'll be updating our regular look at rent levels and pay shortly). And yet the fight for a liveable pay packet can turn increasingly bitter, as staff at Brixton's Ritzy cinema recently discovered.
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