“Depressing” was how Angela Constance summed it up in Scottish Parliament. The Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities was talking about recent research which found that one in three low earners in Scotland were regularly skipping meals because of lack of money. The Poverty Alliance survey also found that 38 per cent had fallen behind with household bills, and 46 per cent are so stressed about their finances that it is negatively affecting their work life.
Depressing too was a poll from the Trussell Trust reporting a rise in the use of food banks, and more evidence at the Scottish Parliament on The Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill.
Nobody likes to dwell on problems of poverty but today it appears to be a fact of life. And the sobering thing for me is that much of this poverty is among people with jobs.
The Poverty Alliance survey found strong support for the real Living Wage of £8.45 an hour. Three quarters of the 1.024 adults surveyed said more employers paying a real Living Wage would raise Scots’ living standards, and 40 per cent thought the Living Wage was the best way to address child poverty in Scotland.
Last week Edinburgh’s Gorgie City Farm became the 800th organisation in Scotland to receive Living Wage accreditation. As a Living Wage employer, it made me proud. But it wasn’t always that way for me. When I took over this family business, I wasn’t on a crusade to pay more than the average in retail and manufacturing. At that time I employed quite young members of staff and I’d fallen into the rut a lot of retailers do of paying minimum wage.
I credit my finance director for leading us down a different path. When one of my team was about to turn 21, he was going to be paid more because of the change in age. My finance director made us question why he was worth more one day than the next. So we started looking at other options. We liked the idea of the Living Wage because it’s based on the cost of living.
Other businesses and even our accountants tried to put us off, suggesting it would hit profits as well as dividends. Paying a Living Wage would mean an 11 per cent increase in our salary bill, but we took the plunge. And it paid off. We’ve grown continuously since, and it made everyone feel more invested in the company.
Over and above business profits, the proof is in the employees. It’s great to see our team members being able to rent or buy their first home, get married or have a holiday as a result of earning a real Living Wage. And it’s been proven that paying a real Living Wage helps with recruitment, retention and absenteeism.
Take Jordan, who had been with us since he was 14. He had wanted to leave school at 15 and join our business then. But I saw his potential and talked him into staying at school, studying hard and applying to university.
After he graduated, a multi-national company offered him a £35,000+ job. I was surprised when he told me he was considering declining. “You’ve looked after me so well I feel I should at least give you a few more years,” he said.
I thanked him for offering to stay - and turned him down. Because what would be the point in holding on to a guy who had this amazing opportunity?For us, paying the real Living Wage is part of who we are. I hope other employers join us to do the same.
Craig Hume is owner of Utopia Computers, an accredited Living Wage employer and member of the Scottish Business Leadership Group for the Living Wage www.scottishlivingwage.org