Bishop of Durham writes for the Northern Echo


WORK is a human good. We are designed to be active. A good job should be fulfilling. In contexts where work is remunerated, then it should be properly valued for its contribution to the good of all.

The pandemic has revealed real contrasts in the reality of work in our society.

The feeling that the “pandemic has not affected us all equally” is true.

Some were able to continue their work from their living room, the only drawbacks of confinement being the background noise of family life.

Many others did not enjoy such luxury and found themselves without a job, without a pocket, or at the risk of their own health to keep our society running.

When the ability to stay home makes the difference between life and death, the pandemic has by no means been an equalizer.

From delivery drivers to cleaners, from caregivers to transport operators, our essential workers have kept the country nourished and functioning, while others have made bread and made their way to Netflix.

There is a common denominator among those who are forced not to work from home during the pandemic: their precariousness.

Unfortunately, precariousness is closely linked to low wages.

Precarious or precarious workers represent 6.6 million people, or one fifth of the entire UK workforce.

Among them, more than half earn less than the true living wage.

Indeed, in the UK a fifth of all jobs are still paid below the real living wage, and the pandemic has only exacerbated that.

When the country faced the most difficult conditions it has seen in generations, two-thirds of workers already below the real living wage saw their wages further reduced.

It compounded existing anxiety about rent, groceries, and bills along with the stress of falling wages, eroding people’s mental health.

On an island where we like to think of ourselves as well-off, the tendrils of poverty continue to disproportionately reach the homes, hearts and minds of the poorest in our society – this cannot continue.

On top of that, low-income earners were more likely to be put on leave and lose their jobs or hours at the height of the crisis; the pandemic has exposed these working conditions for what they are – deadly.

Workers need livable hours in safe conditions.

Among those who had no choice but to be in their workplace during the pandemic, many key workers have been abandoned by their employers. A total of 1.7 million key workers were earning below the real living wage at the height of the first wave.

It is the workers who have kept our company afloat.

Sadly, most of them have been underestimated and undervalued by those who have benefited from their very real sacrifices.

After helping put food on our tables, many found themselves unable to do the same for themselves.

It is a disappointing truth that the low paid but priceless workers are forced to bear the brunt of a global crisis, yet have insufficient pay to even get by.

The failure to give fair value to work and pushing people into precarious contracts with unbearable wages and hours also affects the youngest in our society.

In my diocese, over 30 percent of the children live in poverty, nine in a class of 30; for them, the pandemic has been particularly difficult.

Using food banks and payday loans to cover essential purchases shouldn’t be a part of everyday life.

While many of those below the real living wage cannot feed themselves or their children, we urgently need to reconsider the value placed on different types of work – no one should be left unable to provide for the needs. of his family after a hard day’s work.

Low wages trap people in deepened inequalities and reinforce the traumatic grip of poverty. This cycle must be broken.

The pandemic has highlighted the inequalities that are the sad reality of our country.

The recent announcement by the Chancellor of a six percent increase in the “national living wage” is welcome, but still does not go far enough.

Twenty years ago, a community came together to discuss issues that affected them, finding a common theme to their complaints: low wages.

From there, the campaign to deploy a real living wage was born. Decent and fair wages are not just the right thing to do; they allow workers to live.

Since then, the Living Wage Foundation’s mission to end low wages has grown steadily, lifting 260,000 people out of working poverty.

In the North East alone, we’ve seen 168 companies get accredited as Living Wage Employers, from Sunderland City Council to EDF Energy, lifting over 2,100 workers out of poverty. and at a rate that meets their basic needs.

Still, there is a way to go.

As Marcus Rashford said in his response to the government’s decision to suspend the provision of free school meals during the holidays, “child food poverty in the UK is not the result of Covid-19”.

With the end of the temporary £ 20 universal credit hike, rising fuel and energy bills, and with 2.5 million food packages distributed over the past year, the disconnect between the establishment and the workforce of our society is evident.

The government has always believed that “full-time work is the best way to increase your income and your quality of life.”

Yet when more than half of people in poverty live in households with at least one worker, low wages ensure that many working people can no longer get by on their own.

As we rebuild a better society, a real living wage for all should be a key priority.

A true living wage would mean a society in which all can survive and prosper.

Five and a half million workers should not struggle to earn what they need for a living.

Our country was kept alive by supposedly low-skilled workers.

This work is inherently precious in the sight of God, and their contributions must be honored so that they cannot just survive but truly prosper – they need a real living wage.

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