Letter from Holyrood: More to be done on the living wage

Earlier this month Living Wage Week was celebrated across the UK. The annual awareness week promotes the importance of the Living Wage and encourages companies and public authorities to become Living Wage employers. Support for the living wage is growing year on year, with hundreds of new employers signing up to the initiative.

Here in East Lothian, when Labour took back control of the council in 2012 it made the introduction of the living wage for council staff an early priority. As well as helping raise the income of council workers, this also set a great example for other local employers to follow. But there is still much more to do locally, as well as nationally.

Figures published by the accountancy firm KPMG to coincide with Living Wage Week estimated that some 5000 local people are currently paid less than the living wage. These workers tend to be concentrated in sectors such as cleaning, care, hospitality and retail. While low paid workers in these jobs benefited from Labour’s introduction of the National Minimum Wage in 1999, it is now time to take the next step and ensure work always pay.

I am backing plans to establish a Living Wage Unit and a National Living Wage Strategy which will be accountable to the Scottish Parliament. The strategy will target specific job markets and areas to deliver a pay rise in jobs where it will make a real difference so that the living wage is the expectation, not the exception.

I also welcome the fact that ending poverty pay has been such a central focus for the Scottish Labour leadership contenders. It is clear that whoever emerges as the party’s next leader will have a very strong commitment to prioritising this agenda and making the living wage the norm for Scottish workers.