Life below the Living Wage

AMELIA HORGAN explains the importance of implementing the living wage across Cambridge.

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Perhaps just when you’re slaving over a mass of luridly coloured index cards and highlighters, it’s time to spare a thought for the low paid staff employed by your college. Not only because your bedder has now seen the mid-exam room-mess-nightmare, or that the canteen workers saw your ‘this-is-the-last-straw’ tantrum when the chips ran out, but because our university still persists in paying them less than the living wage, less than enough to live rather than merely subsist.

The living wage is calculated factoring in rent and the prices of consumer goods, giving its recipients a better standard of life than the standard minimum wage. The precarity of low-paid jobs, combined with the hefty living costs of a city like Cambridge, makes getting by pretty tough. Rental rates here are comparable to London, and Cambridge is consistently ranked as one the most expensive UK cities to live in.

The difference between the living wage’s £7.45 an hour and the minimum wage’s £6.31 seems pretty minuscule but can make a big difference; the Living Wage Foundation claims to have lifted more than 45,000 families out of working poverty.

My college, King’s, despite its lefty self-styling, employs the largest number of staff receiving only the minimum wage. Currently, 148 staff members receive a pay packet beneath the living wage; accordingly, students have set up a campaign to push college authorities into paying its staff a decent rate. We’re not the first college to do so, campaigns elsewhere have meant Homerton, Jesus, Queens, Hughes Hall, Fitzwilliam, Gonville and Caius and John’s all pay their staff the living wage.

First Oxbridge college to implement the living wage

First Oxbridge college to implement the living wage

Things are taking off nationally, too. Even the Other Place has got involved, with six of their colleges now paying out the living wage. Cambridgeshire County Council is a living wage employer, as are a smattering of London universities.

Not just an Oxbridge obstacle

Not just an Oxbridge obstacle

There are benefits for employers, too, with research suggesting that over 80% of living wage employers feel that the scheme has enhanced the quality of work of their staff. Really, it’s win-win – employers get better employees; employees get a better life. I’ve included the petition for King’s below, but why not investigate your own college, and find out if they too are paying below the living wage?

King’s Petition

This is about dignity, the right of college staff to a good life for themselves and their families, and management valuing their work and contribution to college life. If you think those employed to clean your room or serve your hall food deserve a marginally better life, get involved; start talking to staff and college management about what pay is like. Help them demand the pay they deserve.