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Leader comment: Living wage

18 November 2022

READERS will know by now whether the Government plans to raise the National Living Wage, something that was being signalled earlier this week before yesterday’s Autumn Statement. It would be good if, for the first time, it ends confusion over the term by matching the sum of £10.90 per hour (£11.95 in London) set by the Living Wage Foundation and paid voluntarily by more than 11,000 employers in the UK. The foundation argued this week that such a move would boost the economy: money paid to low-wage earners tends to be spent quickly in the local economy, and thus helps to regenerate poorer regions. Unlike some of the blunter economic tools at the Government’s disposal, it is less likely to benefit shareholders, the comfortably off, or foreign investors — with one exception at the moment: the open drain that is excessively high energy prices. When he was Chancellor, Rishi Sunak accepted the principle of a windfall tax on the profits made by energy companies (although it took him a while). It will take commitment to ensure that this reaches those whose lives would be insupportable without financial help. Fortunately, the mechanism exists to feed this back into the economy: universal credit. Nearly 40 per cent of households in receipt of universal credit contain a wage-earner — even though it is clear that in many Conservative minds universal credit continues to be associated with hand-outs to the idle poor, as was evident in recent discussions about allowing it to drop below the rate of inflation.

The Archbishop of York, writing in the Yorkshire Post earlier this week, equated the living wage with the biblical principle that the worker was worthy of his/her hire (Deuteronomy 24.14-15). Another argument in its favour is contained in social exchange theory: workers are more willing to contribute above and beyond their normal output when they are fairly remunerated. At a time when productivity needs urgently to be increased, it would be a very basic error to neglect those who do the producing.


Under the radar

PERHAPS we should not have been surprised. When the Bishop of Oxford came out in support of same-sex marriage in his booklet Together in Love and Faith (News, Comment, 3 November), we expected other bishops to realise that this was one of those times — and there are rather more of them than bishops would like ­— when leadership means, well, leading. After practising a respectful reticence during the Living in Love and Faith discussions since 2020, the bishops are now free to express their views on the topic of sexuality, as Dr Croft had done, in the run-up to a Synod meeting in February when a choice has to be made. One of the key elements of good disagreement is being able to state your opinion, explain it, defend it, and listen to opposing views — all in the spirit of open debate, but that does involve actually stating your opinion. And so we waited to hear from the bishops about who believed what . . . and, by and large, we are still waiting. A handful of brave episcopal souls have followed Dr Croft’s lead — but the use of the word “brave” here is in recognition of the reaction from some elements the Church who have not yet grasped the principles of good disagreement, and being trolled on social media is certainly a disincentive. None the less, the evidence from Oxford is that the reaction to Dr Croft’s booklet has been overwhelmingly positive. We hear, incidentally, that there have been a few bulk orders. Maybe some bishops are like shy teenagers: “I daren’t tell my parents about my sexuality. I know: I’ll leave some literature lying around the house. . .”

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