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General Synod: Synod backs payment of Living Wage

30 November 2012

Living Wage

THE General Synod, after a debate on the Wednesday morning, threw its weight behind the Living Wage campaign.

Introducing the debate on his private member's motion, John Freeman (Chester) spoke as both a member of the Church of England and an employee of the Methodist Church, which had taken a "pioneering lead" in committing itself to paying a living wage.

Although a cost-benefit analysis might be appropriate for commercial organisations, the Church had a "rather higher standard against which it should measure itself". If the Church paid less than a living wage, then "why should the world take any notice of it when it speaks out against other examples of economic injustice?" Its ability to tackle excessive executive pay would be compromised. Paying the Living Wage was "an important step on the journey to ensure that the actions of the Church are matching its words and give extra power to the words it preaches".

The Revd Amanda Ford (Leicester) sought to give a "human face" to the motion by talking about a couple in the Leicester diocese, Alan and Carol, whose teenage daughter had grown up in poverty despite her parents both working two jobs. Alan and Carol had health problems, and could have chosen to live on benefits, but they were "people of immense dignity and a sense of their own worth". In Leicester, there was a shrinking economy of jobs that were erratic, required people to work split shifts, and could be characterised as "physically demanding drudgery".

Ms Ford also spoke of the "iniquity" of family tax credit, the experience of which had been "so frightening" that Carol and Alan no longer claimed it at all. The Church must show its belief in the "dignity of human life and the value of human work" - a belief that was distinctive in a world that "makes an idol of profit and values people only as creators of profit or consumers of its goods". It was a "simple, practical, prophetic motion".

Fr Robert Byrne, Cong. Orat. (Roman Catholic Church), in a maiden speech, told the Synod that the RC Bishops of England and Wales had passed a resolution in support of the Living Wage the previous week, against the backdrop of Catholic social teaching and concern for common good.

In 1931, Pope Pius XI had said that "a worker must be paid sufficient to support him and his family." Fr Byrne said: "More than 80 years on, this is not a reality for many families throughout the UK." Two million children were living on or below the poverty line; and some 200,000 people, many in employment, were supported by food banks.

A number of churches supported the Living Wage, and were working towards its implementation, he said. "We, as Christian communities, can come together and challenge the injustice of workplace poverty," and, in doing so, "promote human dignity, which is central to the gospel message".

Clive Scowen (London) introduced an amendment. It purpose, he said, was not to disagree with the motion, but to "focus it on the question of principle on which this Synod may properly formulate a view rather than issues over which we have no control or influence".

It also extended the audience to all employers, not just those who happened to be part of the Church of England. He urged the Synod to "stick to the principle and leave the detailed outworking to those qualified to do that."

The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, congratulated Mr Freeman on his motion. One in five people in work in the UK was not paid a living wage; and six out of 10 families lived in poverty. "It is an absolute scandal, given our corporate wealth as a nation," he said. "Paying workers a living wage for their endeavours should be a badge of honour for Christians." The issue was a matter of justice, kindness, and generosity.

It was difficult to describe the motion as "the politics of envy", Robin Lunn (Worcester) said. "This is about raising people up, not pushing people down." He described the minimum wage as the best piece of legislation passed in past 20 years; but, if an employer was paying the minimum wage, the salary was being topped up by taxpayers. "The Church of England should express full and unqualified support for the Living Wage, and ensure all those employed by the Church, or sub-contracted to it, receive it."

The Revd Stephen Pratt (Lichfield) said that it was immoral that the gap between rich and poor was widening. A food bank had opened in his church seven months ago. "The number of people using it has increased in recent weeks, and most of them are in work."

He criticised the criteria used to calculate the Living Wage, one of them being able to afford a holiday in Spain. "The people of Stoke don't go to Spain: they go to Wales in a caravan."

Canon William Croft (Peterborough) reminded the Synod that the Church of England was in covenant with the Methodist Church; "so we should pay great attention to what they are doing." It would help the Church to fulfil its commitment to "realign more deeply our common life, . . . taking steps to bring about closer collaboration in service of a needy world".

The Revd Dr Rosemarie Mallett (Southwark) spoke of the children in her parish in Brixton who had been campaigning on issues including the Living Wage. Lambeth Council had recently launched its Living Wage at a local primary school, where children had heard from cleaners about the difference it would make to their lives. She acknowledged the work of Citizens UK in campaigning for the Living Wage, and said that the motion was a "golden opportunity for the Church of England to demonstrate leadership by putting faith into practice in an authentic and tangible way that will resonate far beyond these walls in ways we would want our society to hear".

Canon Kathryn Fitzsimons (Ripon & Leeds) spoke of the poverty in the diocese. Although paying the Living Wage posed challenges for both small and large organisations, she suggested that, if there was not enough money at the bottom end of the salary scale, "perhaps those at the top need to think about their salaries and how much money is divided across the whole of those that are employed."

The Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, spoke of the unskilled and semi-skilled employees who were "most likely" to benefit from the Living Wage. The Church was in a "strong position" to invest in the Living Wage, because, through its cathedrals, churches, and schools, it had many such employees as, for example, cleaners and caterers.

People who came to worship at churches might themselves be employees who could be influenced by a Church that paid the Living Wage to its own employees. He warned of the "dire straits" into which people without employment could fall. One man he knew had ended up in prison and on the streets. The average life expectancy for such a person was 47, and he had died on Sunday, aged 45. "The Living Wage would have made all the difference." He urged the Synod to "not only support it, but all go home and do something about it".

Robin Hall (Southwark) spoke of the employers who had reported the benefits of paying the Living Wage, including lower absence and turnover rates. The Synod must also expect those in firms in which the Church of England held "millions of pounds of investment" to pay the Living Wage, and he expected the Ethical Investment Advisory Group to investigate this. He urged the Synod not only to pass the motion, but to reject the amendments.

Mr Freeman responded to Mr Scowen's amendment. He expressed concern that the practicalities of the motion would be lost; it would be "open to multiple interpretations"; it was ill-defined. "It could lead to nothing." It also left the Church of England in the possible position of being "embarrassed" in the media and in society for being the only Christian denomination not giving "whole-hearted" support.

Two amendments were moved but lost, and the motion was carried. It said:

That this Synod, recognising that the widening gap between rich and poor harms all of society and that paying a "Living Wage" lifts people out of poverty:

(a) affirm the Christian values inherent in the concept of the "Living Wage"; and

(b) strongly encourage all Church of England institutions to pay at least the "Living Wage".


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