After successfully campaigning to encourage the University of Manchester Students’ Union to become an accredited Living Wage Employer, students are now putting pressure on the university to follow suit. Accreditation by the Living Wage Foundation (LWF) would guarantee the Living Wage for all those directly or indirectly employed by the university, including subcontracted hospitality and cleaning staff.
Not to be confused with the ‘national minimum wage’ which has been set at £7.50 as a minimum legal requirement since April 2017, calculations to establish the Living Wage take into account accommodation, travel, healthy food, and small miscellaneous expenses. It is a voluntary minimum payment by participating employers, currently set at £8.75 outside of London and £10.20 inside the capital. The wage is designed to allow recipients a “basic but acceptable standard of living”, according to the LWF website.
The student campaign group have set up a Facebook page and penned an open letter to the university: “Research from [The University of Manchester] repeatedly praises the Living Wage’s benefits both in social and economic terms. It cannot be right that the university explicitly claims to support the local community whilst also refusing to ensure all workers are paid enough to live on.” Over 40 lecturers and academic staff have signed the letter in support of the campaign.
The students have teamed up with Greater Manchester Citizens, a community pressure group and local branch of Citizens UK which launched the ‘National Living Wage Campaign’ in 2001 and coordinates the LWF. Since then the organisation has successfully brought over 150,000 people out of working poverty.
Citizens UK’s website claims that 93 per cent of accredited business have benefited from paying the Living Wage, and have reported a range of improvements including “lower staff turnover, higher team morale and higher productivity”. Over 20 other universities including Oxford and Cardiff, esteemed employers such as KPMG, ITV, Burberry and Oxfam, as well as nearly 4,000 other businesses who “believe their staff deserve a fair day’s pay for a hard day’s work” are accredited by the LWF.
“Across the UK one in five working people earns less than the Living Wage; there is still an awful lot to do” the website warns.
When asked to comment, a University of Manchester spokesperson said: “salaries for University staff have consistently met with the Living Wage Foundation’s (LWF) levels in previous years – we do not feel there is a need to become accredited, as we review our pay rates and raise them in line with the LWF rate.”
Chair of the Living Wage campaign at the university Will Ranger, however, says that accreditation is still necessary: “The purpose of accreditation is to ensure that the people on the lowest pay have their incomes rise with inflation so that they continue to be paid enough to live on.”
“It stems from the simple principle”, he argues, “that if you work a full-time job, it is insanity that you should still be unable to live on your income. Manchester University claims to be a ‘socially responsible’ institution but doesn’t guarantee its staff enough to live on”.
Will has found that students, not unfamiliar with the experience of being paid poor wages for tough work, have been sympathetic to the cause and encourages others to join the campaign on Facebook to get involved.
The campaign raises its intensity in the wake of a tumultuous month for the University of Manchester as lecturers embark on a wave of strikes in their dispute with Universities UK (UUK) over changes to their pension scheme.