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
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
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
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
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
Two amendments were moved but lost, and the motion was carried.
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".