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Guest Blog based on a speech given during Living Wage Week by Cllr Brenda Arthur - Leader of Norwich City Council


Many of you will have heard me describe Norwich as a tale of two Cities, move around the city centre and you will see a vibrant affluent city with fewer than average empty shops where the recession hasn’t had a huge impact on the retail offer or the many bars, pubs and restaurants.


But travel just a couple of miles out of the centre and you will discover communities where people are finding it difficult to make ends meet. Where decisions about heating homes or eating, about sending children to school adequately clothed and with a breakfast inside them or not are daily challenges. Some 28 per cent of Norwich families are categorised as deprived and overall 31% of children are said to be living in poverty although in some areas such as Bowthorpe and Mile Cross this number goes up to 50%. So you can see that for a large number of people in our city life is tough. Yet many of those affected are in work either on low pay or minimum wages. We know for example that 60% of people claiming housing benefit are indeed in work but need the income related benefit which is designed to help people on low incomes pay for rented accommodation. So people are trying to pay their way but are finding it increasingly difficult. In the city we can see the impact that commuting has as many of the well paid jobs in Norwich are taken by people living outside the local authority area and there is clear evidence of a pay gap between men and women with, in Norwich, a male full time worker expecting to earn 22 percent more than their female counterpart.

So with that background you will understand why we as an authority are striving to ensure that there is greater equity and that people have a fair days pay for a fair days work. And in our civic leadership role we have to lead by example. So some 25 years ago we started with our Fair pay initiative and has grown into the Living wage pledge. We were the vanguard in this for, at the time, only 200 organisations nationwide paid the equivalent of the living wage. This year we are celebrating over 1000 Living Wage accredited organisations across the land. But to be accredited not only means paying a Living Wage ourselves as an authority but ensuring that our contractors do too.


So our first test was a year or so ago when we were tendering for a company to run our Leisure Centre. We built into the tender that a company which won should be paying a Living wage or working towards that. And indeed the company that won does pay the Living wage in an industry where pay is traditionally low. The staff there are happier and as a result the people using the service are happier too.  Our work with NPS Norwich, a joint venture between us and Norse, to deliver a range of building works has resulted in the staff there being paid a living wage and I can announce that Biffa who hold our waste contract have agreed to pay the Living wage to their staff in Norwich. This is the first city where Biffa are paying the Living wage and will I hope be using this as a model to roll out to their other contracts across the country.


All that said we know that people on low wages spend their money locally. So that any increase helps the local economy as well as individuals and families.  The Living wage at £7.85 an hour is clearly much better than the minimum wage currently £6.50 but it still isn’t a wage one can be extravagant on. It still only equates to £290 a week, or a little over £15,000 a year. But for those who have been living on a minimum wage of £240 a week or £12,500 a year it makes a real difference. The difference between, in many cases, pizzas or food that are cheap and fill and satisfy empty stomachs to fresh vegetables and fruit the much healthier option, to the occasional treat, to a reduction in fear about fuel bills or the worry that I am seeing now amongst families about how they face the coming festive season and pay for gifts for their children and families.  And then there is the issue of time spent with children or family members. Time for me is the glue that keeps families together, that offers the opportunities for young and old to talk to each other, understand each other, grow strong bonds. Without those opportunities because people are working every hour they can to make up a wage they can live on then other concerns and worries around potential family problems, debts and issues around mental health all too readily arise.


So for the health and wellbeing of some of our most disadvantaged families, for economic reasons both within organisations and in the city as a whole, more organisations paying the Living wage makes real sense.   Thank you all for being part of our Living Wage Week. I hope you will feel able to dip into some of the other activities we have on offer or maybe direct your staff to the advice sessions we are running if you feel they might be helpful for them. And finally may I, once again, thank our hosts Aviva.

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