Sadiq Khan’s intervention on the living wage would make little difference to low paid Londoners, and would undermine the moral force of the London Living Wage.
His first proposal is to raise the London Living Wage to £10 an hour. But the moral case for the living wage is that it reflects real living costs, rather than a compromise between employers, unions and experts, as is the case with the national minimum wage. Each year City Hall calculates the new level taking account of changes to costs like rents and food, and government policies like benefit cuts. It’s impartial, independent, irrefutable.
Khan would politicise the wage rate, giving employers the perfect excuse to ignore it.
His reasoning is that the tax credit cuts require a higher wage. I agree, but the City Hall number crunchers will already take that into account when they announce the first rise in the living wage under the new mayoralty in 2016.
He pledged a pay rise for workers in City Hall, TfL and private firms winning their contracts. Perhaps he really doesn’t know that this will already happen, as the living wage is uplifted this November and again next year, and the year after, and the year after.
His second proposal is to set-up an “economic fairness team” at City Hall to urge more businesses to pay the living wage. But City Hall already does this. Yes, Boris Johnson could have put more staff time into this work, but it’s nothing new. Like Jowell’s Homes for Londoners, a quango that would simply rebrand an existing board operating since 2012, Khan is unveiling policies that are already in place in Boris’ City Hall.
Greens were the first to call for powers over the minimum wage to be devolved to the Mayor, so I welcome his call for that. But London needs a Mayor with more imagination when it comes to using the powers the mayoralty already confers.
Khan would do well to talk to Citizens UK, who devised the living wage campaign. Though they’ve appreciated Boris Johnson’s vocal support, I’d argue they have done more to sign up Living Wage Employers in the last 7 years than City Hall staff.
While retaining a team to push for pay equality from City Hall, why not support Citizens UK and trade unions to organise workers in sectors like retail, care and hospitality, where low pay is such a problem? A more powerful citizen voice could also boost the Mayor’s call for devolution of the minimum wage.
I’ve suggested a similar approach to housing. While the Mayor must use the planning system to squeeze more genuinely affordable homes out of developers, why stop there? I would support the co-operative and community housing sector to develop entirely new models, giving them first dibs on public land and setting up a London Housing Co-operative to develop their skills and capacity. I’d kick the developers out of City Hall, and bring Londoners in.
City Hall can’t solve London’s problems with top-down initiatives, especially under the boot of Conservative austerity. Sadiq Khan’s living wage proposals would simply rebrand an existing top-down approach, while undermining the moral legitimacy of a citizen-led campaign. It’s not the change London needs.