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Stuart Wright -“Five years on, and the Living Wage has gone mainstream"

Stuart Wright, Chair of the Living Wage Advisory Council and Group Property & Facilities Director at Aviva won an award at the Living Wage Champion Awards last night in recognition of his contribution to the movement. Here he reflects on five years of progress for the Living Wage, before he steps down from this role at the end of June 2021.

Five years ago (2016) I stepped into the role as Chair of the Living Wage Foundation Advisory Council when the Living Wage had just 2,000 accredited employers. In the last five years, the real Living Wage has gone mainstream. It’s now recognised as the benchmark approach to tackling low pay, and the Foundation has become the go-to organisation for all related matters. The real Living Wage logo is now an established sign of a responsible employer.

This is testament to the vision of that group of low-paid parents from churches, mosques, schools and synagogues in Bethnal Green, East London in 2001 who came together with community organisers from Citizens UK to find a better way to support workers and families struggling on low pay. 

This year we celebrate 20 years of the Living Wage campaign, and never has the movement had more momentum behind it.  Despite the challenges of the past year, when many businesses have struggled to navigate the pandemic, a further 2,000 employers decided to sign up to pay the real Living Wage. These businesses understand that it runs deeper than just displaying the Living Wage credentials, it is a commitment to your staff that shows you care about them.

That movement has now reached 8,000 Living Wage Employers, that’s 6,000 more employers from when I joined as Chair, and that’s not all.  During my time, the Living Wage Foundation has put over £1.3bn back into the pockets of over 270,000 low-paid workers. And in the past few years the movement has begun to diversify into new areas: tackling insecure work with the launch of the Living Hours accreditation, and more recently beginning to explore what a Living Pension could look like.  In my role at Aviva, we supported the development of Living Hours from the get-go, offering to pilot the standard with our catering teams and ensure it was stretching but feasible for employers and employees.  Later, in October 2020, Aviva became one of the first two accredited Living Hours Employers. That is a commitment I’m particularly proud of in the face of rising insecure working practices.

As Chair, I’ve had the pleasure of supporting the movements diversification into other new areas, including the Global Living Wage Initiative and Living Wage Places. Both projects exploring ways to use geographies – cities, towns, boroughs, and even countries – to drive Living Wage jobs.  Aviva also became a Living Wage Funder in 2019, and supports an annual event in Norwich during Living Wage Week to promote the movement to local employers.  

I’ve delivered more than my fair share of speeches on the Living Wage, from parliamentary receptions to the flagship event during Living Wage Week. But one thing always sticks in my mind: the people who can speak to what a difference a real Living Wage makes – people like Lynne.  Lynne is a Cleaning Supervisor at Aviva’s offices in Norwich, who has spoken so powerfully, originally in a video about the difference the Living Wage makes to her and her family, but then progressing to tell her story again in parliament and present a Living Wage Champion Award.  More recently, Lynne has been interviewing colleagues at Aviva on the difference a real Living Wage can make.

Earlier this week, I found myself accepting a Living Wage Champion Award, which I am humbled and honoured to receive, most of all because of what the Living Wage movement has done for me.

The Living Wage movement is filled with incredible people. Being involved with the Living Wage campaign has opened my eyes to a world that I probably could not previously imagine.  I’ve never struggled on the minimum wage or with poor housing or struggled to put food on the table.  The Living Wage movement provides ordinary people like me, working for good companies and otherwise unaware of the perils of low pay, a window to this other world.  Not only that, but it provides a tangible way to make a difference. 

They woke up the slumbering campaigner in me through simply highlighting an injustice where we all have the power to influence and act and do the right thing.

It has been my absolute honour to chair the Living Wage Foundation Advisory Council.  I want to finish this with a huge thank you to members of the team, past and present and to all our Living Wage Employers, Places, Funders and Service Providers for your support.  And if you are not accredited - make the commitment, it is now, and always will be, the right thing to do. 

17th June 2021
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