By Lauren Beehan
Charities have welcomed an Edinburgh City Council motion to support the Living Wage movement, despite Conservative claims that it would lead them to close their doors.
Councillors pledged to encourage their contractors and suppliers to pay their staff the living wage of £7.65, which Tory councillors said would force local charities to cease their services.
Speaking at last Thursday’s council meeting, Cllr Jeremy Balfour said that enforcing a living wage would leave vulnerable people without essential services. He said that three charities in his ward alone “would simply have to close and lay off their staff and lay off helping the vulnerable people in the West of Edinburgh” if they were obliged to pay the living wage.
However, Ruchir Shah, policy manager of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, said that they supported the living wage initiative and hoped that all organisations, charities included, would get behind it.
He said: “We support the living wage. [Charities] should value their staff as much as the people they are helping. [...] If charities are funded by the City Council, the council should make sure that they are paying these charities enough to pay the living wage.”
The living wage movement calls for an end to working poverty, where working people need two jobs or the assistance of charities such food banks to survive.
Cllr Norma Austin Hart, who proposed the motion, told the council that most people living in poverty in the UK are low-paid workers, who cannot afford basic human rights such as food and shelter.
Describing poverty levels as “a modern scandal”, she said: “It is no longer the case that employment guarantees a route out of poverty, so employers need to be encouraged to take this important anti-poverty action. I feel that it is incumbent on the public sector to lead the way on this.”
She describe the living wage as “the most effective tool we have at our disposal” in the fight against working poverty.
However, businesses remain cautious, expressing some concern about an “arbitrarily-defined” living wage.
David Martin of the Scottish Retail Consortium said that the two biggest costs to retailers are people and property. He said: “Smaller businesses might be acutely hit by this – if there is pressure on one of these two variables, you have to reduce that cost, either by a cutback on additional employee benefits or by reducing staff numbers.”
However, he also said that the vast majority of retailers, traditionally associated with low salaries, already paid above minimum wage.