Local leadership on the Living Wage is an important step in tackling in-work poverty

Six councils across West Yorkshire and York have established a low-pay charter and committed to paying the Living Wage.

As six Yorkshire councils commit to paying the Living Wage, Josh Stott looks at the positive impact this could have in the region.

Six councils across West Yorkshire and York have established a low-pay charter and committed to paying the Living Wage. Local leadership on this agenda marks an important step in tackling in-work poverty across the city region, where JRF is working on practical research looking at linking growth and poverty.

Launched this week, ‘No Silver Bullet – Doing more to support our lower paid workers’ has been backed by the leaders of Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds, Wakefield, and York. It commits those who have not implemented a Living Wage policy to apply a managed and staggered approach to achieving this, by removing the bottom two pay scales for the two years 2015/16 and 2016/17.

The charter also highlights how pay is only part of the story in tackling in-work poverty, a message strongly reinforced by our own research.

It commits to:

  • review existing pension information and proactively target its communication at lower-paid workers to drive up-take;
  • proof all HR policies for their impact on lower-paid workers, particularly focusing on progression and reducing institutional barriers, such as constrained career structures;
  • agree to the principle of investing in and promoting a responsive, accessible employee benefits package that is communicated to target groups consistently, frequently and through the right channels, using collective leverage to broker deals with providers.

The charter should be great news for low-paid local authority employees, but perhaps the most important aspect is the signal it sends to other local employers. The councils have set an example for the type of employer and ultimately the type of economy we want to foster across the city region. By embracing the charter within their own policies and practices, these councils can now be on the front foot when working to influence businesses and other public sector organisations.

The move reflects the councils’ leadership role as ‘anchor institutions’ – some of the biggest employers and spenders with an inherent stake in the city region. We want to see other anchor institutions adopt the principles behind the charter and we at JRF are currently working with a cross-section of these organisations (local authorities, NHS, education providers) as part of our More jobs better jobs partnership.

By committing to a more rigorous application of ‘social value’ in procurement and commissioning, the impact of the charter extends beyond direct council employees to providers of goods and services. It will hopefully stimulate a more collaborative and creative approach to deriving ‘social value’ from their considerable local spend and investment. Our research on tackling poverty through procurement highlights the potential opportunities for achieving this and also busts some of the myths about what public bodies can and can’t stipulate in their contracts.

This week’s announcement represents an important step in tackling in-work poverty across the city region. Its impact will hinge not only on effective implementation within the councils themselves but, most importantly, on how far they can influence and encourage other employers to adopt the charter.