Summing up: Scots employers embrace living wage

Heart of Midlothian Football Club are one of many notable Scottish companies to pay staff living wage. Picture: SNS

Heart of Midlothian Football Club are one of many notable Scottish companies to pay staff living wage. Picture: SNS

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A BELATED Christmas quiz for you: what do West Linton-based bakery Breadshare, Village Vets of Longniddry and JB Eyecare of Edinburgh have in common with Chelsea Football Club?

Well, other than (respectively) lots of dough, a penchant for rolling around and a record of benefiting from poor eyesight, they’re also among Scotland’s swelling ranks of employers committed to paying the living wage.

Around 70 employers in Scotland are recognised by the Scottish Living Wage Accreditation Initiative, including the Scottish Government, Standard Life, Royal Bank of Scotland, Hearts FC and Aberdeen Asset Management, but many more will join them over the coming year.

Support for the living wage is growing rapidly and with very good reason: it’s one of those relatively simple policies that is, for want of a more nuanced expression, a “no-brainer”.

It featured heavily in the Scottish Labour leadership campaign and in the referendum debate (although the SNP blocked a living wage for government contract workers) and will become increasingly prominent in the general election campaign.

It is rising up the agenda now largely as a response to the cost of living crisis.

The living wage is now £7.85 an hour (rising to £9.15 in London), compared with a minimum wage of £6.50 an hour (£5.13 for workers aged 18 to 20) that is no longer sufficient to cover living costs.

Average weekly earnings have fallen by 8 per cent since 2008 and average incomes are now lower than they were a decade ago, government figures show.

Two-thirds of people who found employment in 2013 are paid less than the living wage, estimates the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which points to a huge rise in zero-hours contracts and self-employment.

The bleak outlook for those stuck on low incomes has been exacerbated by punitive benefit cutbacks, as the Tories target working age tax credits in a bid to cut the welfare bill (even though low wages force more people to depend on state support).

But the benefits of the living wage for both employers and employees are numerous, while in wider socio-economic terms it also helps to combat inequality, cut household debt, improve long-term savings and reduce dependence on the state.

If you’re still not convinced, Lewis Mitchell might help you. Lewis, 17, joined Standard Life this year as part of its Edinburgh Guarantee scheme for school leavers.

Lewis lives at home with his parents in Dunfermline, which over time can be a costly commute into Edinburgh. Fortunately for him, Standard Life has since 2012 paid all employees the living wage, so he doesn’t need to ask his parents for help with his travel costs. It also means he can afford driving lessons and still save money, which allows him to chip in towards household costs and, eventually, may enable him to get a place of his own. He’s joined the company pension scheme too, which he doubts he’d have done if he was earning only the minimum wage.

“The good thing about earning the living wage rather than the minimum wage is that it allows me to make decisions about my money and feel I’m achieving something, rather than every penny being accounted for just to get by,” he said.

The employers that are committed to paying the living wage remain in a distinct minority. Hopefully it won’t be long before we wonder why it wasn’t the norm rather than the exception. Happy New Year.

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