By Cllr Andy Hull
Executive Member for Finance at Islington Council
In 2010, Islington Council launched the UK’s first Fairness Commission (there are now 15) to tackle poverty and inequality in our six small square miles of north London. In 2011, the commission’s top recommendation was that we should lead the way on the Living Wage. So, in 2012, we became the first accredited Living Wage local authority in the country, securing the Living Wage for all of our 5,000 directly employed staff. That included cutting our Chief Executive’s salary by £50,000 to pay the Living Wage to our cleaners as we brought them back in-house.
In 2013, we reviewed all of our existing contracts, renegotiating them where necessary to insist upon payment of the Living Wage. We also built the Living Wage into our procurement process for future contracts. As a result, we soon reached a position where 92 per cent of our contractors, including security guards, school cooks and litter pickers, were paid at least the Living Wage.
In 2014, this rose to 98 per cent when we secured the Living Wage for all our home care staff. This cost us an extra £600,000 but was well worth every penny, supporting colleagues who do some of the most important work in our society, caring for our loved ones as they grow old. Over five hundred carers (mostly BME women) benefited from the move, 180 of them Islington residents. No other council in the country has managed this, yet. Now, we just need to crack the remaining 2 per cent of our contracts which are not yet Living Wage complaint, all of which are for residential social care. We made a good start last month when we tasked our staff with finding a Living Wage provider to run one care home in the borough, St Anne’s – another UK first.
The unions have been critical friends throughout. Their help has been invaluable, for instance writing to all their members, asking them to alert us to anyone working on the council’s behalf not getting the Living Wage, despite our contractors’ promises. A few people have blown the whistle in this way, enabling us to nip any problems in the bud. GMB and Unison have also been able to assist us in ensuring that our contractors don’t try to work their way around a Living Wage requirement through casualisation or shifting to zero hours.
Beyond getting our own house in order, we have also been actively encouraging other Islington employers to follow suit. As a result, our borough is the area of the country with the highest number of accredited Living Wage employers (75), even if mega-money Arsenal FC is still, for now, not yet one of them. We are also using our council’s £1bn pension fund to lean on the FTSE 100 companies in which we invest to go Living Wage. For example, I recently attended Sainsbury’s AGM on behalf of our fund, where I was able to secure a meeting for Citizens UK with the supermarket’s new Chief Executive to discuss the Living Wage.
We are pulling every Living Wage lever we can because we believe that no-one should have to do a hard day’s work for less than they can live on. That, in turn, means we need to put our money where our mouth is, even when times are hard. The government is cutting its funding to Islington Council in half between 2010 and 2016, yet we are resolutely on the front foot when it comes to tackling the scourge of poverty pay. This week, friends at the Living Wage Foundation are arguing that ‘work should be the surest way out of poverty’. They are right. It is up to us in local government to make sure that everyone who cares for our parents, cooks our kids’ meals, staffs our pools and keeps our offices safe and clean earns enough to live on.
Cllr Andy Hull is Executive Member for Finance at Islington Council. He tweets at @AndyHull79.