Over the summer we found the welcome pack from the Living Wage Foundation which had arrived at the start of the pandemic and had somehow been forgotten. Among other things it contained a sticker which you might have noticed in the shop window.
A few years ago we decided to peg our wages to the Real Living Wage, making it a fixed item on the balance sheet. If Loaf’s profits increase then we can of course pay more, but we won’t go below it.
So, what’s that all about and why did we join?
The Living Wage Foundation was set up in by Citizens UK and is independent of the government, though it has cross-party support. The rate is calculated each year based on the cost of living — the current rate is £9.50 per hour — and paying it is purely voluntary.
The reason it’s called the Real Living Wage is to distinguish it from the mandatory government National Living Wage, a 2016 re-brand of the “minimum wage”. This is based on a different calculation and is currently lower, at £8.91 per hour. While the naming might seem cynical, the gap between them has been reducing and the intention is that they eventually reach parity.
A key factor of the Real Living Wage is in the name. It reflects the cost of living in a society as opposed to simply surviving — a subtle but important distinction — affording a basic but decent standard of living without the need for government subsidies.
We decided to become an accredited living wage employer because supporting this cause is important to us. As a worker-owned business we set our own pay, but many of our peers in the food sector do not have this right.
Campaigning for a real living wage doesn’t just help workers live a decent life — it also normalises the conversation about wages and workers’ rights. Many of you are concerned about the provenance of your food, and rightly so.
What we ask is that you also concern yourselves with the people preparing, serving or delivering you that food. Are they being paid enough to live on? Is their employment stable with regular hours? Can they be fired with zero notice? Are they able save for a rainy day?
We’re not interested in shaming small businesses and we don’t ask you to interrogate your server about their wage packet. We just ask that Birmingham’s food and drink renaissance brings the workers along with it.