Should Suffolk employers be made to pay the Real Living Wage while the Covid-19 pandemic impacts finances?

Suffolk County Council considered a motion to pay the Real Living Wage. Picture: ARCHANT

Suffolk County Council considered a motion to pay the Real Living Wage. Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: ARCHANT

Calls for a Suffolk council to make sure all its contractors pay the real living wage by 2022 failed to gain enough traction, with the financial pressures of Covid-19 cited as a key reason.

Suffolk County Council Labour councillor Jack Abbott said no one should be paid less than what they needed to cover the costs...

Suffolk County Council Labour councillor Jack Abbott said no one should be paid less than what they needed to cover the costs of living. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Suffolk County Council’s opposition Labour group tabled a motion at Thursday’s full council meeting calling for the authority to ensure all its contractors paid the real living wage by April 2022, as well as all council -employed staff, and work towards being accredited by the Living Wage Foundation.

The real living wage is the cost of living, calculated to be £9.50 per hour by the Living Wage Foundation, while the national minimum wage set by the government is the absolute lowest level a UK employer can pay, which will be £8.91 an hour for over 23s from April next year.

Suffolk County Council already pays most of its staff the real living wage, but the opposition Labour group said it needed to commit to that with its contractors.

Councillor Jack Abbott said 25% of Suffolk earners were paid below the living wage. He said: “No person living in Suffolk in 2020 should be expected to work full time while not earning enough to cover the cost of everyday living.”

Conservative cabinet member for finance at Suffolk County Council, Gordon Jones said it was not the right time to impose the ...

Conservative cabinet member for finance at Suffolk County Council, Gordon Jones said it was not the right time to impose the Real Living Wage on contractors when Covid-19 already impacted their finances. Picture: SCC/SIMON LEE PHOTOGRAPHY - Credit: Archant

Mr Abbott pointed to the council’s commitment to address food poverty earlier in the year and added: “In order to combat food poverty we must also address the causes of poverty itself. Low pay below the cost of living is clearly linked to this.”


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However, the motion only secured 21 votes compared to 46 against, as senior Conservatives said it was not an appropriate time given Covid-19 had already left many businesses under threat.

Cabinet member for finance, Gordon Jones, said imposing such a demand on contractors, particularly in areas such as adult social care could cause them significant financial problems.

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“Many people are earful for their jobs without putting increased pressure on their employers to pay more for the same or fewer numbers of staff,” he said.

Elfrede Brambley-Crawshaw from Suffolk County Council's Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group, said the authority sho...

Elfrede Brambley-Crawshaw from Suffolk County Council's Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group, said the authority should set an example with the Real Living Wage. Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

“We continue to keep our procurement rules under review but in view of the severe financial pressures that many businesses in the county find themselves as a result of the pandemic, I do not believe it’s the right time to burden them with increased uncertainty or cost.”

Elfrede Brambley-Crawshaw, leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent cohort said the council should “set an example and use our influence at every opportunity” and added that “individuals and families should not be forced to rely on the state or charity”.

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