Ed Miliband said on Monday morning that the Living Wage is an idea whose time has come. David Cameron said the same thing several years ago. The Living Wage is something (perhaps the only thing) that the unions and Boris Johnson agree on. But, despite being a cause with wide bipartisan support, many have never heard of it.
The Living Wage is an hourly wage, higher than the minimum, which means that those who earn it actually have enough to live on. It’s set by experts at Loughborough University and is revised carefully each year. It has just been raised to £7.45 an hour outside of London. The amount is still quite low, but it can add a massive £2,500 to the before-tax income of a full time employee who would have otherwise been paid the minimum wage, of £6.19 an hour. This makes a significant difference to an employee’s quality of life and their ability to provide for their children. It also means they are less likely to prefer benefits to employment.
The Living Wage Campaign, to which Mr Miliband is the latest recruit, exists to encourage and pressure employers to pay their staff a wage that will provide them with an acceptable standard of living – basically one where they are not in poverty. It has had great success over the past 10 years and there are now 94 employers that pay it, one of which is Oxford City Council. Sadly, though, Oxford University is not one of those 94. Our University, the second wealthiest in the country, does not pay its staff a fair wage. I, and other members of the Oxford Living Wage Campaign, think that needs to change and are working towards Oxford University becoming a Living Wage Employer.
It is unjust that Oxford University does not pay a living wage to its staff, especially given that it can afford to and the cost of living in Oxford is so high. But not only is it unjust, it is unnecessary: the University will not go into financial meltdown if its lowest paid staff are paid an extra £1.26 an hour. If UCL can be a living wage employer then Oxford can be too. Implementing a living wage would be beneficial for Oxford: paying staff more signals you value their work, and is proven to lead to increased productivity and reduced absenteeism. If Oxford University were to pay a living wage, it would also help our image problem. A fusty, elitist, backward institution pays its cleaners the minimum. A caring, inclusive, progressive University pays a living wage.
The arguments are sound both ethically and economically, but if we want a living wage paid in our University then we need to put pressure on those in power to make sure that it happens. We must not think that just because some individuals and colleges support the living wage it will automatically happen on a University-wide level. We need to make sure that those who make the University’s financial decisions realise that this actually matters to students and staff. We don’t just care about issues that affect us and our finances, but we represent the University to the resident community and work with them towards a more equal and fair system.
To put pressure on those with the power we have to be organised. We have to work together, and to do that we have to meet each other. That’s why coming along to Living Wage Campaign meetings (Thursdays, 5pm, OUSU) is so important and why I have chosen to be involved in the Living Wage Campaign nationally and within Oxford. The Living Wage is something that requires support institutionally through JCRs, MCRs and OUSU. The Living Wage needs you too – to use your vote in meetings and elections to guarantee that Oxford University and your College do not keep their staff in working poverty.