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Living in hope of a living wage in Brighton and Hove
7:00am Friday 2nd November 2012 in News
By Neil Vowles, Amira Elbayouk and John Keenan
Barman Jason Rogers earns just £6.20 an hour at Pub du Vin in Ship Street, Brighton, one of the city’s top watering holes.
He says his current minimum wage job barely pays the bills and he is forced to work long hours to finance his lifestyle.
The 27-year-old said: “I work 50 hours a week and most of my wages goes on my rent.
“I share a house in Woodingdean and of course I would like to own my own house one day but prices are very expensive.
“I would definitely benefit from the introduction of the Living Wage if my employer could afford it.”
But his bosses are not among the businesses and institutions in the city clamouring for the introduction of a Living Wage of £7.19 an hour.
Pub du Vin argues that while the wage increase would benefit some, it would be even more harmful to others.
Phil Lewis, general manger at the Hotel du Vin and Pub du Vin, said he would have to lay staff off if he introduced the Living Wage.
He said: “My payroll is a percentage of my turnover and I have to stick to my targets. I would have to lose four jobs if we introduced the Living Wage.”
How to calculate a fair day’s pay is no easy matter as those pushing for a Living Wage to be introduced in the city are finding out.
Currently employers are being urged to pay their workers a pound more than just the minimum wage of £6.19 per hour for those aged 21 and over.
But many campaigners and workers feel that even this salary falls well short of what is really needed.
The Argus spoke to several workers who said they were finding it hard to make ends meet on low wages in Brighton and Hove, with its high living costs, rental and property prices and with inflation on the rise.
A Living Wage would, campaigners argue, bolster the pay packets of tens of thousands of workers with almost one in five of employees in Brighton and Hove currently paid less than £7.19 an hour.
The large majority of these lower-paid jobs are in the private sector with almost one in four receiving less than £7.19 an hour. This works out at nearly 20,000 workers in the city.
Many of these jobs are in the city’s key employment sectors such as retail and tourism.
This week the Tourism Alliance representing some of Brighton and Hove’s top hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions, said it would resist the calls for the Living Wage despite top employers Brighton and Hove City Council, Brighton and Hove Bus Company and Brighton and Hove Albion already signing up to it.
Members, who include Palace Pier, Sealife Centre and Brighton Metropole, have warned that there could be significant job losses if they were to sign up to the Living Wage and that some business would become “unsustainable”.
A member, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “I can confirm that as a great deal of our team are currently earning less than the suggested Living Wage this would certainly have a significant impact in terms of our future structure.”
The benefits of the Living Wage include more staff loyalty and reduced leaving rates, according to a new study of the policy in London, where it was introduced in 2005.
A report by poverty charity Trust for London revealed more than half of those in Living Wage workplaces felt better about their employment after it was introduced and felt more loyal towards their employer with staff leaving rates falling by 25%.
Low-paid staff costs increased on average by a quarter in these firms, but the overall additional cost to companies was just 6% because of related savings, such as employees being more productive.
The introduction by the Green administration at Brighton and Hove City Council of the Living Wage last year raised 340 employees’ wages at a cost of £180,000 a year.
The Living Wage in London is currently £8.30 compared to £7.19 in Brighton and Hove and elsewhere around the country.
But many of the measures of living costs put Brighton and Hove level with the capital.
Housing charity Shelter’s index of housing affordability shows that the ratio of housing costs to pay is 50% higher in the city than the UK average and substantially higher even than in some London boroughs.
When exploring the introduction of the Living Wage a Brighton and Hove City Council report concluded that the Living Wage in the city would come out higher than the national rate at either £7.47 or £8.31 depending on assumptions made about accommodation.
However, with such a high number of low-paid workers in the city’s key retail and tourism sectors, even the leading advocates of the Living Wage conceded it would be unlikely that the London weighted Living Wage could be introduced here.
Nevertheless, it is expected that in the next few months the Living Wage Foundation will recommend the limit should be increased in the city by 30p to £7.50.
If current Living Wage employers want to maintain their current accreditation they would have to meet the foundation’s recommendation.
Brighton and Hove City Council said the council was leading the way by cutting the new chief executive’s salary by 10 per cent. Penny Thompson, who will take up her post next month, will earn £150,000.
A spokeswoman added: “The Living Wage Foundation reviews the Living Wage level every year and given the increasing cost of living the recommended Living Wage is likely to be raised.
“The council is awaiting an announcement and once this has been made public, will consider the costs and benefits of working towards paying any new rate.
Councillor Jason Kitcat, leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, said: “Paying the Living Wage is the right thing to do and makes good business sense.
“Through the work of the local Living Wage Commission and the Brighton and Hove Chamber of Commerce, many businesses said that they agreed with the principle of working towards £7.20 as a local living wage in Brighton & Hove, and I’m looking forward to an exciting campaign by the local Chamber of Commerce to support businesses to make this change.
“It’s National Living Wage Week next week, and we look forward to more employers signing up and greater awareness of the benefits of paying the living wage.”
Brighton is expensive and difficult to live in – it’s like living in London
Isaac Sydenham, 17, was paid £7.50 an hour at warranty provider Domestic and General in Queen Square House, Brighton.
The generous wage was almost double the minimum wage for his age and he worked there five days a week, for seven and a half hours a day.
After paying out £560 for rent and then tax and bills, he was left with just £40 for food and living.
He said: “Even on those wages, I can’t buy new clothes and can’t go out.
“Because I don’t have any money to spend, it’s had a massive effect on my social life.”
Brighton is expensive and difficult to live in – it’s like living in London.”
If I was paid more it would encourage me to work harder
WHSmith employee Toby Cable, 18, is paid £5.50 an hour, again above the minimum wage, to work for the newsagents.
Like many youngsters, the high cost of living in the city means that Toby has no option but to continue living with his parents.
He said: “I just wouldn’t be able to move out if I only had this income and didn't have any support from parents.
“I can go out but in a city like Brighton my options are quite restricted.
“I like my job but if I was paid more I could start thinking about moving out after saving up for a few months first and it would encourage me to work harder.”