LOW pay is “scandalous” and the greatest social evil, the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, has said, after research showed that FTSE 100 bosses would earn the average annual UK wage in a matter of days.
A report, published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and the think tank the High Pay Centre on Monday, shows that FTSE 100 chief executives starting work on Thursday 2 January would, by 5 p.m. the following Monday, have earned above the average UK wage of £29,559.
Bishop North, speaking on Monday, said: “Seventy-seven years ago, Beveridge identified five social evils in his report. If it came out now, you would put low pay at the top. . . I’m increasingly angry with the situation.”
The Beveridge report, published in 1942, was instrumental in the construction of the welfare state and NHS. It identified five significant “giants” to be attacked. kled: want, disease, ignorance, squalor, and idleness.
Bishop North said: “We have full employment, but we still have hunger, foodbanks operating, and poverty. There is something fundamentally deeply unjust with the way that workers are being treated.
“It’s low pay, but also the gig economy, and zero-hour contracts. It is a ludicrous situation. A huge part of the benefit system . . . is now funding those on low pay.”
He made reference to the final report of the Commission on Economic Justice, a project of the Institute for Public Policy Research, which was co-written by the Archbishop of Canterbury (News, 5 September 2018).
The report argued that a “palpable feeling that the economy is not working for most people” was rooted in reality.
Bishop North continued: “It is increasingly obvious that the impact of that [low pay] is poverty, and it’s scandalous.” He said that foodbanks could be put “out of business” in five years with “fair pay and fair benefits”, and that, while their work was important, it could be that people were “colluding with the problem”.
“Charity is a fool without justice,” Bishop North said. “The foodbanks give us [Christians] the authority to speak to this injustice.”
A study by researchers at Heriot-Watt University, commissioned by the Trussell Trust, published in November, found that those using foodbanks had an average weekly income of just £50, and the overwhelming majority — 94 per cent — were destitute (News, 8 November).
Christians “must” speak to the issue of low pay, he said. “How many of Jesus’s parables spoke from the marketplace? Jesus offers life in all its fullness. . . Levels of inequality are growing, and are affecting debt, mental ill-health, and crime. Social inequality is eating away at the fabric of society.”
The Government announced at the end of 2019 that the national living wage would increase from £8.21 an hour to £8.72 from the start of April, for over-25s, which thrilled Bishop North, he said.
He hoped that the Conservatives would follow through on their promises to be a government for everyone: “I hope there’s meat on these bones.”