The Blog

Living Wage: It's Not Only the Right Thing to Do, It Makes Business Sense Too

From a community campaign which had its roots in East London less than15 years ago, we now have a mainstream movement recognised by 4 out of 5 citizens in the UK.

But it is not simply awareness that is rising; attitudes are changing as well. In a poll of some 5,000 people undertaken for KPMG, 80% of people said they were willing to vote with their wallets in favour of a Living Wage Accredited Retail Chain. This is up 10% on less than a year ago. Additionally we found that those least likely to earn a Living Wage are the most likely to have heard of it.

Or to put it another way, consumers with the greatest level of disposable income are the most keen to spend their cash in a Living Wage Accredited shop.

Independent outlets such as coffee shops and microbreweries have spotted this and are taking full advantage of the opportunity. They say it allows them to demonstrate their values in action and in many ways to stand out from the crowd.

For me the challenge for the high street is how they assess the potential brand value associated with the Living Wage.

There is no directly comparable campaign that may be used as a benchmark. Fairtrade is to a degree analogous but it evolved gradually from churches and schools onto the high street, whereas the Living Wage Foundation has started from dialogue with the largest of businesses in the UK.

The route to market and brand recognition has developed faster than other 'new entrants' but how much further will it run?

The first Living Wage Week in 2012 saw 100 employers accredited and a year later there was 500 business and by November 2014, a 1000 businesses had signed up. Six months on the figure is north of 1500 with almost a quarter of the FTSE 100 included. Fortune 500 companies are well represented and social enterprises are already making hay while the sun shines.

At the time of the 2010 General Election there was limited mention in the manifestos and this time all the major parties have voiced their support, in their own way, for the further promotion of the Living Wage.

We firmly believe it should remain a voluntary commitment made by leading employers and the 'business case' at this time is as varied as the range of employers supporting the movement.

Within the UK, we have a phrase that is recognised by 4 out of 5 people; a brand 'Living Wage Foundation' that is increasingly supported by employers large and small, a future government that is more likely to support it more strongly than hitherto and a challenge for the High Street to make sense of all of these moving parts.

The evidence of the benefits is increasing, but not universal and perhaps the question for the High Street should be how do we integrate this into our overall business strategy rather than how do we decide to pay a Living Wage or not. It would be a totally different conversation.