Can campaigning around pay equity deliver significant improvements in economic, social and ecological justice? These were some of the questions explored when 30 people gathered on 2nd April 2014 to launch our latest report. The exciting energy present suggested that ‘momentum is building up on this issue’ and the information in the report could be valuable.
In Place of Pay Inequality: How Local Authority Pay Policies can help make Greater Manchester more equal and sustainable, and why it matters, looks at the pay policies of local authorities in Greater Manchester to see what actions they had taken and makes a series of recommendations of what more could be done to reduce income inequality.
While many Authorities have implemented ‘living wage policies’ for their lowest paid employees some are below the Living Wage Foundation rate. Salford and Oldham are the only local authorities with policies which consider the pay and conditions of staff working for contractors who provide council services. Taxpayers currently subsidise low paying private providers of public services through benefits. See table below.
Other local authorities in the UK have set targets to maintain or reduce the differentials in pay within their organisations. Greater Manchester, where 8 out of 10 Chief Executives are in the top 1% of earners in the UK is lagging behind best practice in this area.
The launch kicked off with brief and rich contributions from 5 speakers including Ben Irvine, the author of the report which was jointly produced with NW Equality. Among other things he pointed out that senior council officials have a responsibility for assuring social value and justice locally, and to receive an enormous salary for this was contradictory in itself. There was a vibrant discussion involving the participants of all ages who came as individuals as well as from Trade Unions, political parties, voluntary and campaigning organisations and included councillors from Blackburn with Darwen, Salford and Manchester.
So what was so special?
As Laura Banister explained, having a discussion about equity AND ecological justice that prioritises redistribution challenges the view that if there is ‘no growth, you are locking people into a miserable life’. Several participants illustrated how greater equity would be good for an economy which is good for people and the planet. We will develop this idea in further posts here. One of the ground-breaking qualities of the report is that it brings together Steady State principles alongside a stress on social value and equity.
Neil McInroy from the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, stimulated a passionate discussion by suggesting that while Local Authorities might be the ‘low hanging fruit’, the problem was bigger given the size of the economy outside their direct influence and that pay differentials are greater in the private sector. Others disagreed suggesting the public sector should give a moral lead, ‘local authorities still have tentacles which reach communities’ and the issue of outsourcing is key. However as Neil clarified, he didn’t mean to let councils off the hook – their local leadership role in ‘place shaping’ is vital to the wider problem.
Tom Skinner contextualised this in the anti-egalitarian policies of the present central government, using the example of the regressive tax changes of the last budget that do nothing for people on low wages. If national government won’t act, then local government must. He noted the moves in Tameside and Manchester, but especially Salford which is an accredited Living Wage employer that is working on the procurement front, and Stockport that has got all its schools, and even the academies signed up. Paul Dennett, Assistant Mayor from Salford, confirmed the commitment from the mayoral team.
The breadth of related issues became increasingly evident. Kevin Flanagan from the GMB raised critical questions about ‘the battle for integrity of work itself’ and the need to integrate training, skill development and adult basic education into the demand for pay equity. Lydia Merryll of SERA and Pam Flynn asked where wage-less people wage fit in, including volunteers, those caring unpaid, mostly women and asylum seekers who cannot work and get £35 a week, unless they are destitute in which case they get nothing. How much could a citizen’s wage address some of these issues?
People listened to each other and valued each others’ perspectives: it was wonderful to hear Green and Labour party members commending each others’ actions!
Laura Bannister, who spoke on behalf of the Green Party, inspired others to action when she committed to write to the Chief Executives of the 10 local authorities, and the press, to ask what they will be doing to implement the findings of this report. Others present pledged to co-sign the letter and send it to Health and Housing Chiefs, AGMA and the press as well.
Tom Evans ,a councillor from Blackburn with Darwen will be asking questions in relation to grants given to industry, not only about how many jobs will result but also what kind and details about the hours and pay.
Mike Wild from Manchester Association for Community Care and Lydia Merrill will look further at aspects of social value and procurement.
Dick Venes encouraged us all to lobby on these issues during forthcoming elections.
One idea that gained wide support was Tom Skinner’s) Greater Manchester Living Wage Campaign) proposal of encouraging employers to get accredited for paying a living wage. Councils can facilitate this, thereby playing their economic ‘place leadership’ role beyond that of their immediate workforce and procurement footprint.
There was interest in a network on pay inequality which will need to complement and connect with the Greater Manchester Low Pay Campaign and Greater Manchester Poverty Commission. This might look at generating discussion with AGMA on what a good economy might look like, within which an emphasis on the connections between work and community has to be central.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to know more and/or get involved in this area of our work.
By Judith Emanuel. Additional material by Mark Burton.
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