Sunderland landmarks lit to celebrate living wage week

Landmarks across Sunderland are being lit up this week as part of the city’s drive to see more money staying in the local economy and fewer residents earning poverty pay. 

Northern Spire bridge, Keel Square, Fulwell Mill, Seaburn Lighthouse, Hylton Castle and the Beacon of Light are among the landmarks and lighting features lit blue, yellow and orange for Living Wage Week.

The week is held annually to celebrate the Real Living Wage movement and raise awareness of the campaign to see more people getting a fair day’s pay for a hard day’s work.

Sunderland City Council has been paying its employees the Real Living Wage recommended by the Living Wage Foundation since 2014 and last year extended this commitment to staff working for council contractors as contracts are renewed.

Unlike the National Living Wage, which is the legal minimum set by the Government, the Real Living Wage is calculated by the Living Wage Foundation and is based on how much they estimate people need to live on. It’s paid voluntarily by almost 7,000 UK employers. It has just been announced today that this is to rise 40p to £9.90 per hour compared to the National Living Wage of £8.72 per hour.

Other city employers, including Gentoo, care provider Blue Ribbon, Wearside Women in Need, Shiney Advice and Resource Project (ShARP) who provide money advice to residents, the Youth Almighty Project and flexible packaging supplier Interflex, also pay their staff the Real Living Wage.

The Leader of Sunderland City Council, Councillor Graeme Miller is keen to see more city business and organisations signing up to become Real Living Wage employers.

Councillor Graeme Miller, said: “As a council we committed to paying our staff the Real Living Wage seven years ago and last year extended this to cover council contractors as contracts are renewed.

“For me becoming an accredited Real Living Wage employer was simply the right thing to do. Work should pay, or at least pay enough for people to live on, but this isn’t always the case as we witness people with multiple jobs having to resort to using foodbanks and struggling to pay their bills.

“In our city we have around a quarter of children living in poverty, workless households account for one in every five households and around 20 per cent of those who are in work are on or just above the minimum wage – which feeds into a whole range of social and economic problems. So our ultimate ambition is to see Sunderland become a Real Living Wage City by encouraging more employers to come on board and support this goal.”

Cabinet Secretary, Councillor Paul Stewart, added: “Being a Real Living Wage Employer and our ambition to become a Real Living Wage City is a key plank of our Community Wealth Building plans which are about supporting residents to move out of poverty and reduce the dependence on in-work benefits. There are also tangible benefits for Real Living Wage employers in terms of increased staff morale, wellbeing and retention.”

The Real Living Wage movement was formed in 2001 when a group of families came together to start a campaign to be paid a Real Living Wage. Since then hundreds of thousands of families have benefited and been able to earn a wage they can live on. Thousands of employers choose to go further than the government minimum and voluntarily pay the real Living Wage to all of their staff including their contracted staff. This has meant a pay rise for hundreds of thousands of workers and their families.

Cllr Miller explained that becoming a Real Living Wage employer also makes economic sense because it results in more money going into the local economy as well as better motivation and retention among staff.

He said: “The evidence suggests that the additional money people will have in their pockets from paying them a fair day’s pay for a hard day’s work will be spent across our local economy, in local businesses and local shops, creating more jobs and more security so it makes economic sense too. Paying the Real Living Wage not only benefits the lowest paid individuals but also the wider local economy, communities and the city.”

This Thursday, the city’s Real Living Wage employers are set to come together at the community interest company Pop Recs coffee shop and culture hub in High Street West to share their experiences of paying the wage and the benefits this has brought for them and their staff, developing an action plan to enable Sunderland to become a real living wage City.

Cllr Miller said: “This is all about partners across our city working together to make sure that more money goes into our local economy and fewer of our residents earn poverty pay so I’d urge any employers who are interested to get in touch and find out more.”