Income and Poverty

The living wage can help in-work poverty

  • Published: Jun 28, 2013
  • Author: Amber Courtney
  • Category: Income and Poverty

Poverty is all-too widespread in Wales. There are families in almost every community who have nothing set aside for emergencies, who cannot afford to buy school uniforms for their children, who have no spare money for hobbies or leisure activities, and who cannot afford to keep their homes warm during colder months.

Sadly, being in paid work does not provide a guaranteed route out of poverty. In Wales we know that two thirds of children growing up in poverty live in a family where at least one member works. The increasing number of community food banks that are springing up across Wales and the number of working people who use them is a sad reality of the circumstances that many people find themselves in. It is a clear indication that this is a situation that is getting worse rather than better.

What more can be done to turn this situation around?

Improving living standards for individuals and families living in poverty is in the interests of the whole of Wales. Boosting living standards can only have a positive impact on levels of consumption and demand, and this in turn will promote growth and employment.

That is why UNISON has continued to campaign hard for the living wage throughout Wales. Paying workers the Living Wage, which is currently £7.45, would allow people the opportunity to provide for themselves and their family. The benefits to the employer of paying the Living Wage are now widely evidenced and include a more committed and productive workforce with less absenteeism and improved retention rates.

The benefits of the Living Wage apply equally to both public and private sector. 

UNISON believes that more could be done within Wales to progress the Living Wage. For example, we believe that all public sector procurement and assistance contracts, perhaps above a certain value, could include a stipulation that the contractor will pay the living wage.

The application of the Living Wage should not be restricted to employers engaged in public sector procurement.

Public sector bodies must share the responsibility to pay decent remuneration to their workforce, and to use every means at their disposal to encourage and press private sector companies to do likewise. UNISON applauds the employers who have implemented the Living Wage, and we urge other employers to stop paying poverty wages to their staff.

The path out of in-work poverty does not rest solely in the hands of being paid the Living Wage. 

Opportunities to progress and access skills and training in the workplace also make a difference. We know that low paid workers have less access to training and education to help improve skills and knowledge, and there is a knock on effect to progression routes for those workers. In the longer term this restricts the opportunities available to those individuals and reduces their earning potential in the longer term.

UNISON believes that investing in a healthy and skilled workforce is vital to the economic success of Wales. UNISON and other trade unions have worked hard to ensure that workers have access to workplace education. We have worked with the Welsh Government and developed Wales Union Learning Fund projects with employers that have allowed workers, who may not have had the opportunity to access other avenues of learning, to increase their potential in the workplace. We strongly believe that the continuation of the Wales Union Learning Fund is both economically and socially the right thing to do. 

There are clearly many other opportunities that the Welsh Government have available to deal with in-work poverty, but UNISON believes that a more robust commitment to developing the Living Wage in Wales, along with the continuation of the Welsh Union Learning Fund is, at the very least, a good starting point. 

Amber Courtney is Information Development Organiser at UNISON Cymru Wales. This post is one of a series to discuss aspects of poverty and social exclusion in the run-up to the publication of Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s biennial ‘Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion Wales’ in September. It was originally posted by the Bevan Foundation on the 28th June.


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