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C of E dioceses take to heart the call for a fair wage

27 June 2014

The Church has made a start at promoting the Living Wage, says Tim Wyatt


Banner-waving: campaigners gather for a national demonstration against austerity in London, on Saturday

Banner-waving: campaigners gather for a national demonstration against austerity in London, on Saturday

EIGHTEEN months ago, the General Synod carried a motion endorsing the "Christian" values that underpinned the Living Wage, and called on the Church of England to embrace the concept.

A Church Times investigation shows the extent to which that call has been heard. Thirty-four dioceses have confirmed that all their staff are paid the Living Wage - at least £7.65 an hour outside London - as well as numerous cathedrals, charities, and all national church institutions.

The relationship between Christianity and modern campaigns for fair wages goes back more than 100 years. In 1891, Pope Leo XIII issued an encyclical, Rerum Novarum, condemning "wealthy owners" who pushed down their workers' pay for their own gain.

Some 110 years later, in 2001, a group of community workers ineast London found that many parents were struggling to make ends meet. In response, they launched the Living Wage - a new, non-statutory minimum wage that would provide an employee with the income required to meet the basic costs of living.

The Church Times asked every diocese in the C of E whether all its employees were paid the Living Wage. Every one of the 34 who replied confirmed that their directly employed staff were being paid at least £7.65 per hour.

A few dioceses said that some staff connected with, but not directly employed by, their diocesan board of finance were paid less than £7.65 per hour. In Leicester, some staff at Launde Abbey and St Martin's Cathedral Properties (a subsidiary) were paid below that rate.

Thirty-six employees of a chain of academies run by the Diocese of Salisbury Academies Trust were paid less than the Living Wage, a spokesman for the diocese said; their wages could not be lifted without raising pay levels for other employees. All other diocesan staff were paid the wage, however.

Lambeth Palace and Bishopthorpe both pay the Living Wageto all directly employed and subcontracted staff, and cleaning staff at Church House have been paid the London Living Wage, currently £8.80 per hour, since April.

In an answer to a question at the General Synod last November, Philip Fletcher, who chairs the Mission and Public Affairs Council, told members that, by 2016, all staff at the Church's Hyde Park Estate would also be paid the London Living Wage.

Several other C of E organisations have also joined the Living Wage campaign. The Church Army is now an accredited Living Wage Employer, after its chief executive, Mark Russell, found out that some of its cleaners and subcontracted staff were poorly paid. Mr Russell said that it was a question of putting the Army's money where its theology was.

Ely Cathedral took a £50,000 gamble in signing up to the Wage, as it employs up to 100 staff, including some on low pay in cafés and shops. The Canon Missioner, the Revd Alan Hargrave, said that the decision was taken to phase in payment of the Living Wage over five years, at a cost of £50,000, even though the cathedral was only just breaking even.

Much of the Church has now signed up to the Living Wage, but many dioceses did not need to increase their salary levels to ensure that all staff received the Living Wage. One diocese, Hereford, had lifted the pay of a part-time cleaner from the minimum wage (currently £6.31 per hour) to the Living Wage, but many others said that, when they checked, they discovered that all their employees were already paid well above the rate.

Research by KPMG, however, suggests that at least five million workers are still paid less than the Living Wage - which, the Institute of Fiscal Studies says, costs the taxpayer about £6 billion a year in benefits and forgone taxes.

In more than 4600 church schools and 16,000 parish churches, there is a large number of people who work under the C of E name, but not for dioceses or national church institutions. Each PCC and school is legally independent of the Church; so it is not known how many staff are not paid the Living Wage; nor is it clear whether there is any way in which paying the wage could be imposed on them if that was desired. A spokesman for theC of E declined to comment on the notion of expanding the Living Wage beyond the church institutions mentioned in the 2012 Synod motion.

Some other denominations have made steps in that direction. Since 2010, all Methodist churches and organisations have been required to pay the Living Wage, unless they have applied for an exemption on the basis that it would be economically unviable.

The public-policy adviser to the Methodist Church, Paul Morrison, said that the Church had adopted it not just because it believed in it, but because it wanted the concept to spread further in society. "The idea that somebody is worth more than what the market will pay, that human labour is different from any other commodity - that is deeply important."

The Roman Catholic Bishops' Conference for England and Wales and all other British RC institutions are accredited Living Wage employers. A spokeswoman for the RC Church said that the Catholic Education Service promoted the wage through all its schools last year, but they did not have any statistics on the number of schools that had signed up.

The Church of Scotland urged the raising of the minimum wageto the Living Wage at its General Assembly in 2012, and all congregations and agencies of the Church have been told to pay the wage by 2015. A spokesman said that three of its four central bodies also already paid the Living Wage.

Others have a more mixed record. The diocese of St Asaph has formally adopted the Living Wage, and the Church in Wales is currently consulting on a Living Wage policy agreed in principle last year.

A motion at the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church last year endorsed the Living Wage, and "encouraged" all congregations to pay it. A spokeswoman confirmed that all provincial staff in the Church are paid the wage.

The Baptist Assembly passed a resolution in 2008 urging churches to give "careful consideration" to the idea of paying the Living Wage, but a spokeswoman said that the Baptist Union did not know how many churches had responded.

All staff at the United Reformed Church's Church House are paid the Living Wage, and their General Assembly also endorsed the concept in 2008. But a spokeswoman said that the Church had no means by which it could require local churches to pay the wage.

Living Wage activists said that, in general, churches in the UK had been helpful allies in their campaign. The Revd Paul Regan, a Methodist minister and a member of the Living Wage Foundation's advisory council, said: "It has been taken up pretty well [by churches]. Many of them are often concerned with food poverty or homelessness, and this is a very positive way of trying to counter such stuff. It's they who can keep an eye on this, and make the moral case to the market."

One campaigner, Tom Skinner, of the Greater Manchester Living Wage Campaign, said that Christians did not require much persuading to join the battle: "Generally, I think churches are supportive. Allowing people to live their lives to the full is an integral part of Jesus's message. I have never had to work that hard to convince people theologically.

"But in terms of rolling it out to all the churches and schools - that is a much harder job. I think there are hundreds of employers, like churches and schools, who are not paying the Living Wage to all of their staff; so there is an enormous amount still to do."

The challenge of raising the wages of the unknown number of church-school or parish employees who are paid less than £7.65 an hour is still considerable. Alongside this task is the part that the Church plays in advocating the benefits of the Living Wage to businesses and the Government.

But, with at least 34 dioceses on board, as well as every denomination in principle, the aim of lifting one million more people out of poverty through higher pay, as proposed by the Archbishop of York's Living Wage Commission this week, seems more achievable.

Dr Sentamu: Raise more workers' pay

by Tim Wyatt

ONE million more workers should have their pay raised to the Living Wage by 2020, a commission chaired by the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, has said.

The final report by the Living Wage Commission, released on Tuesday, recommends that the Government make it a stated goal to increase the take-up of the Living Wage - currently £7.65 per hour - by one million more employees in the next six years.

The report describes this as "a bold yet credible step that will not result in an overall reduction in demand for labour, but will significantly improve the lives and well-being of a substantial number of people". 

"Is it right somebody should work all the hours that God gives them, and still be in poverty? That cannot be right," Dr Sentamu told the BBC. "Working and still living in poverty is a national scandal. If the Government now commits to making this hope a reality, we can take a major step towards ending the strain on all of our consciences."

The report also recommends that the Government should pay all public-sector workers the Living Wage, but does not go as far as calling for the Wage to become legally binding. Research by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research suggested that up to 160,000 jobs could be lost if the minimum wage, currently £6.31 an hour, was raised to the Living Wage.

An analysis by the consultancy Landman Economics suggests that the UK could receive an extra £4.2 billion in increased tax revenue and reduced spending on tax credits if the Living Wage is rolled out further and faster.

The debt-counselling charity Christians Against Poverty said that it welcomed the Commission's findings. In a statement on Tuesday, its chief executive, Matt Barlow, said: "We wholeheartedly agree with the Commission's analysis. Employers have a duty of care to their staff, and, by treating them respectfully and fairly, enjoy a more loyal and motivated workforce."

Responding to the report for the Government, the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, said: "The only real way of achieving sustainable increases in living standards is by focusing on economic growth, employment, and reducing taxes for the low-paid. This is exactly what we are doing."


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