Archbishop of York condemns low levels of pay in Britain

Dr Sentamu criticised government and business leaders for allowing the situation to proliferate

The Archbishop of York has spoken out to condemn the low levels of pay millions of Britons receive as a “national scandal”, criticising the Government and business leaders for allowing the situation to continue.

John Sentamu, who will chair a 12 month commission on the feasibility of replacing the national minimum wage with a ‘Living Wage’, said that successive governments have offered little more than a “sticking plaster” solution to the crisis.

The Living Wage Commission will address the barriers to offering workers a living wage and examine how to bring about the changes to introduce it.

Writing in the Observer, the archbishop accused businesses of forgetting the “basic moral imperative that employees be paid enough to live on”, and called for business, trade unions and government to engage in a “national conversation” regarding levels of pay in Britain.

Implementing the Living Wage, currently set at £8.55 an hour in London and £7.45 outside the capital, compared with the current minimum wage of £6.19 for adults and £4.98 for 18 to 20-year-olds, would provide millions of people on minimum wages hope, the archbishop argued.

Dr Sentamu attacked successive governments for allowing company bosses to reward themselves with large pay packages whilst their employees struggle economically on low wages. He questioned the Government’s decision to initially not address the issue, only to later help the lowest earners with money from the state.

He said: “So far, all governments have been merely applying a sticking plaster to the crisis of low pay. The holes in millions of pay cheques are being plugged by in-work support to the tune of £4bn a year.

“But why aren't those who are profiting from their workers paying up? Why is government having to subsidise businesses which don't pay their employees enough to live on?

“These are questions we need to answer and act on - fast. The cost of living is rising, but wages are not.

“In the rush for profit, and for high pay at the top, too many companies have forgotten the basic moral imperative that employees be paid enough to live on.”

Dr Sentamu said low pay affected more women than men, and warned of a stall in closing the gender gap in the workplace if it continues.

“The consequences for so many people and their families are devastating”, he said. “Women, as the majority of low-paid workers in this country, are hit particularly hard. Low pay threatens the great strides that have been made in gender equality in recent decades, because it undermines women's economic independence.

“This is a huge loss for them and for society as a whole.”

The archbishop said the time had come to build fairer workplaces, rather than having a living wage remain “an abstract concept”.

He said politicians from Prime Minister David Cameron to Labour leader Ed Miliband and London mayor Boris Johnson had backed the concept, but said “what workers really need is pay, not platitudes”.

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