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Amplifying the Living Wage Movement: the Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames

The Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames is harnessing the power of local government to advance the Living Wage movement in the UK’s most expensive city.

Accredited as a Living Wage Employer in 2019, the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames sees the Living Wage as a way to improve the lives of its residents. Simply put, the London Living Wage is empowering - it gives people the ability to choose not to work 60 hours a week on minimum wage because they have to.

In addition to improving the lives of its residents, the council also considers the Living Wage to be a crucial tool in supporting vital sectors of the economy – like social care – to recover from the impact of Covid-19. Research by Skills for Care for the Living Wage Foundation has shown that nearly three quarters of jobs in the sector are paid below the real Living Wage – it’s no surprise that the amount of workers leaving care for better pay elsewhere has made headlines recently now that society has opened up again.[1] That is another reason why the Living Wage is so important to Kingston.

Cllr Andreas Kirsch, Portfolio Holder for Finance and Commissioning at Kingston Council, said:

“During the pandemic, more and more people started working in the social care sector, risking their lives to support those most at risk. The London Living Wage is important in helping to retain those workers, who have delivered vital services for over a year now.”

"Paying a Living Wage isn’t just beneficial to employees – it also benefits the employers themselves, as the evidence suggests it improves staff motivation and retention and boosts an organisation’s reputation.”

"I’d encourage any local employers not already paying their staff the Living Wage to join the scheme."

Commissioning thousands of contracts with local businesses every year, Kingston’s accreditation as a Living Wage Employer has accelerated the pace of the Living Wage movement in the borough , explains Mirela Lopez, the Corporate Head of Commissioning and Procurement. As providers compete with each other for contracts with the council, Kingston’s accreditation as a Living Wage Employer has created an interesting dynamic whereby businesses feel that they can get that competitive edge over one another by improving their relationship with their workforce. Businesses often compete on price as a race to the bottom. But the value Kingston Council places on working with businesses who have good working practices and good relationships with their workforce has led to a further 20 organisations the council works with committing to pay the Living Wage.

Aside from improving their chances of winning contracts with the council, Kingston has noticed another reason that local employers are increasingly signing up to the Living Wage movement - it’s good for businesses.

Mirela Lopez added: “Some of the things that were reported to us from the market were that paying the London Living Wage enhanced providers’ reputation as employers, encouraged positive changes in work organisation and improved relations between staff members and managers.” What’s more, the council has experienced some of those benefits first-hand. “Paying the Living Wage has definitely improved the reputation of the council. We’ve had providers approaching Kingston because we are a Living Wage Employer. People want to do business with us because of the ethical standards we hold.”

What piece of advice would Kingston give to another local authority looking to accredit as a Living Wage Employer? Start thinking about how to rebuild your relationship with the market. By mapping your supplier base and rethinking where they are in paying the real Living Wage, you can see the bigger picture and understand where everyone is on their journey.

To read about the experiences of other accredited local authorities, read our interview with Brent Council. For more information about the process of accrediting local authorities, read our Local Authority Toolkit.

Thinking of accrediting? Find out more here.

 

[1] Analysis by Skills for Care for the Living Wage Foundation, (November 2020)

7th October 2021
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