The Living Wage is a simple concept: an hourly rate of £7.65, or slightly higher in London, as independently calculated by the University of Loughborough, based on what members of the public consider a “minimum acceptable standard of living”. Disappointingly, the University of East Anglia has no plans to ensure that its lowest paid members of staff are paid this rate.
The Living Wage is not an act of charity: paying workers a fair wage for their living gives workers dignity, reduces sickness and absence rates as well as helping to improve staff retention rates. Staff such as cleaners and caterers are a crucial and hardworking part of the UEA community, working unsocial hours to provide essential services, yet many of them are not given the self-sufficiency that the Living Wage would provide.
When the University fails to pay a living wage, it is local support groups, council services and national welfare systems that pick up the bill for its decision not to grant staff independence and dignity. It is immoral and irresponsible for employers to expect these support networks to compensate their low wages; the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has confirmed that, most people in poverty in the UK are now in paid employment.
The decision to pay a Living Wage has already been made by many local institutions such as Aviva, Norwich City Council, City College Norwich and Anglia Ruskin. Additionally, the Living Wage is supported by both Norwich MPs and the prospective Labour candidates. If a fair wage is good enough for these institutions, then surely it is good enough for a world-class university like UEA?
Students, staff and the wider public are tired of the old, discredited doctrine that higher-paid members of staff need to be incentivised with inflation-busting pay rises whilst lower-paid staff should be paid the minimum rise possible to increase “efficiency”. Higher education suffers from pay differentials higher than that in other areas of the public sector; if university heads reduced their pay to £140, 000 the pay rate of the current Minister for Higher Education, that would be enough to raise all Higher education staff on minimum wage to the living wage. A study by the Fair Pay League confirms that there is no correlation between salary rates for university heads and their university rankings. This means that pay inequality in universities is not being directed by some invisible hand of the market, it is simply the result of institutional decisions and biases.
UEA Student Union motion #1515 supports a living wage at UEA, as do campus trades unions. As a UEA postgraduate student, I will be supporting both the students’ union and trades unions such as Unison campaigning for a living wage over the coming months.