Peter Hill, Bishop of Barking writes why the Living Wage is so important to East London boroughs like Newham and Barking (originally published in the Newham Recorder in September)
As the new term starts, too many children will go back to school hungry because their families’ incomes don’t cover the essentials needed to live in Newham. The absence of free school meals over the recent six-week summer break means extra costs families can ill afford.
Even for people in work, life can be tough because of the high cost of London living, with rent and travel cost taking up a huge proportion of monthly income. The latest figures from KPMG and Living Wage Foundation show that nearly 1 in 5 (19%) of all Londoners are earning below the London Living Wage – these figures don’t account for self-employed people who are often earning below the government minimum.
Ending in work poverty is a huge challenge but if we have the heart and the will to get together we can make a change. When people recognise need and get organised, we can transform our communities for the better.
Every day, Christians in parishes across East London are living out their faith in a wide range of ways: running community projects, teaching, working with young people, organising winter night shelters and caring for the vulnerable. We also work in alliance with other faith and non-faith community groups within community organising charity Citizens UK to look at ways to address failures in the system that harm the community. Efforts to tackle poverty are growing in scale and sophistication and now include debt advice centres, foodbanks and advice services.
One big contribution to diminishing poverty came about thanks to community leaders right here in East London: The London Living Wage, the amount calculated as the minimum needed to survive in the capital. Back in 2001, members from the East London branch of Citizens UK brought together churches, mosques, schools and other local institutions to talk about the issues affecting their communities. People were working two or three minimum wage jobs and still struggling to make ends meet. They had no time for family life. Back then the government’s minimum wage was just £3.70 an hour.
Out of that meeting, a powerful movement came together and began campaigning for employers in East London and the wider country to pay a Living Wage to their staff and to their outsourced cleaners, caterers and security guards. People marched, petitioned businesses and supported workers to stand up at the AGMs of the same FTSE companies whose headquarters lie south from here in Canary Wharf. We won the support of the London Mayor and a commitment from the London Olympics for some workers at the Olympic site to be paid at the London Living Wage.
Fast forward to today and the current London Living Wage is £10.20 an hour. There are now thousands of jobs in East London paid at the London Living Wage and 4800 employers pay the real Living Wage, supported by the Living Wage Foundation. Local Living Wage employers include cleaning company, CTS Cleaning Solutions, Community Links and West Ham football club. A few months ago, Newham Council also committed to making this move; it is vital local Government also plays its part in tackling in-work poverty. Nationally thanks to community pressure the Government even increased the minimum wage and rebranded it ‘National Living Wage’ – although it is still lower than the voluntary London Living Wage of £10.20 an hour.
Congratulations all round, but there is much more still to do!
The Living Wage was only made possible through the effort of determined, organised citizens: ordinary people who took a stand. The New Testament tells us that "the worker is worthy of their hire" (1 Tim. 5:18). That worthiness means at least a living wage. That’s why today I’m encouraging East Londoners to renew that spirit and tackle poverty head on by working with us to ensure more big employers pay it. That means big local employers like London City Airport stepping up, as well as smaller employers looking at what they can change. That includes many churches and other faith organisations, who need to examine their own practices too.
Together, we can be proud of East London’s Living Wage legacy and build on it for future generations.
Peter Hill is the Anglican Bishop covering Newham, Havering, Redbridge, Waltham Forest and Barking and Dagenham