Celebrating 20 years of the Living Wage

Community Organising l

In the first of three blogs to help churches prepare for Living Wage week, CTC Director Angus Ritchie reflects on the roots of the 20-year campaign in Christian teaching and action.

The Living Wage has been in the news again – with the Government announcing an above-inflation rise in the minimum wage, to bring it closer to the level of the real Living Wage (outside of London at least), This rise in the minimum wage – and the Government’s branding of it as a ‘National Living Wage’ – are evidence of the impact of the 20-year-old Living Wage Campaign. As well as the campaign’s impact on legislation, it has persuaded  over 8,000 employers to paying the real Living Wage to every worker – and this has put over £1.5 billion pounds back into the pockets of low paid workers.

 Living Wage Week runs from Monday 15th to Sunday 25th November. It is a great opportunity for churches to celebrate the central role of faith in the 20-year campaign; to explore the roots of the Living Wage in Scripture and Church teaching, and to take action to support the campaign today.

The origins of the Living Wage Campaign

The Living Wage Campaign was started over a decade ago by religious and civic groups in TELCO (the east London chapter of London Citizens and Citizens UK). Churches played a central role – because of the clear message of Scripture and Christian social teaching on justice and dignity for workers.

The churches at the heart of the campaign twenty years ago weren’t just churches for the poorest – they were churches of the poorest. A central principle of community organising is that those who experience injustices are at the heart of the campaigns to achieve change.

In his address to this year’s worldwide gathering of popular movements, Pope Francis explained why this is so important

In my experience, when people, men and women, have suffered injustice, inequality, abuse of power, deprivations, and xenophobia in their own flesh – in my experience, I can see that they understand much better what others are experiencing and are able to help them realistically to open up paths of hope. How important it is that your voice be heard, represented in all the places where decisions are made. Offer your voice in a collaborative spirit; speak with moral certainty of what must be done. Strive to make your voice heard; but please, in those places, do not allow yourself to be constrained or corrupted.

In calling the Church to place those who experience injustice at the heart of its social action, community organising is in fact recalling the Church to the vision of the Gospel.

Preparing for Living Wage Week

There are four key things your church can do for Living Wage Week

1. Preach on the Living Wage

If you use a Lectionary, the Sunday in Living Wage week will be the Feast of Christ the King. The readings remind us that Jesus’ Kingship does not reinforce the unjust hierarchies of this world, but challenges them – for at the centre of God’s Kingdom are those who “have suffered injustice, inequality, abuse of power, deprivations, and xenophobia in their own flesh.”

Over the next two weeks, I will be blogging with reflections on these readings – and with some wider reflections on why a Living Wage is supported by the witness of Scripture and Catholic Social Teaching.

2. Get testimony from low-paid workers in your congregation

There is no substitute for personal testimony. Story is the main genre of Scripture – and has always been central to the success of the Living Wage campaign. Is someone in your church is willing to speak or be interviewed about life on poverty wages, or the positive impact of the Living Wage? Alternatively, a member of your congregation – or one of the community organisers from London Citizens – could speak or be interviewed  about the stories behind the campaign, and how it has succeeded.

3. Ask #WhoIsMyCleaner

As well as campaigning for a Living Wage, CTC helped to found Clean for Good – a new ethical cleaning company, set up by Christian churches and charities. (Our Development Director Tim Thorlby chairs the company.) The #WhoIsMyCleaner challenge is to (1) Find out your cleaner’s name and thank them for the hard work that they do, (2) Find out if your cleaner is paid the Real Living Wage, and (3) If not, ask your organisation why?

4. Say ‘thank you’ to a Living Wage employer

 Community organising involves tension and struggle – but we also recognise and celebrates success. Some employers who were once resistant to the Living Wage have now become powerful voices for its positive impact. Contact your local Citizens UK organiser and find out which local employers your congregation can thank. This can be by sending a letter on behalf of the church – or even getting members of the congregation to write a ‘thank you’ postcard. Experience suggests this can be done most effectively, and quite speedily, while the congregation is still together. Why not distribute postcards – and supply some pens – during the notices? You can collect the cards in and post them in one batch.

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