Living wage campaigners have hit out after it emerged a third of people in some North East towns are not earning to enough to get by.
Unions, politicians and even the new Bishop of Durham have called for more firms to take up the Living Wage, currently set at £8.80 in London and £7.65 across the rest of the UK.
Just 20 North East firms pay the higher than minimum wage to their lowest paid staff, a move the unions say has to change.
Latest figures show more than one in five people receiving less than the living wage, with some parts of the region faring much worse.
Darlington tops the region’s blackspots with 37.6% of people paid less than the living wage, with Blaydon at 34.2% and Berwick 31.7%.
Northern TUC boss Beth Farhat said the unions were looking to see more support for their pay battle.
Mrs Farhat said: “Extending the living wage is a vital way of tackling the growing problem of in-work poverty across Britain.
“Working families are experiencing the biggest pressure on their living standards since Victorian times. Pay has been squeezed at all levels below the boardroom and it’s costing our economy dear.
“The number of living wage employers is growing rapidly and unions are playing their part in encouraging more employers to sign up and pay it – but Government must show equal initiative.
“We need to see a far greater commitment to pay the living wage from Government and employers, and modern wages councils which could set higher minimum rates in industries where employers can afford to pay their staff more. During Fair Pay Fortnight we’re asking workers to back our call to MPs to get all political parties to put decent pay at the top of their agendas in the run up to the election.”
The TUC campaign is today backed by Paul Butler, the Bishop of Durham, who said: “The Living Wage is good for everyone: good for the employee and their family – they have enough to live on; good for the employer in recruitment, retention and morale of their staff; good for us all.
“The Living Wage makes sense for everyone. It makes sense economically, socially, morally and spiritually. It helps us all build better lives and a better society.”
Union research suggested that for working women the picture is even bleaker.
The campaign has been backed by Hexham’s Conservative MP Guy Opperman, who has said he supports the need for firms to voluntarily take on the wage increase.
He said: “I have long been a supporter of the Living Wage. The campaign has really taken off in London and the South East, but what I hope to do today is to bring the campaign right here to the North East.
“I understand the concerns that business has, but I really want to explain the benefits it can bring. As many people will be aware, I am a huge advocate of the regional banking system we see in Germany. There are lots of things we can learn from our Germanic neighbours, especially around productivity.
“Paying the Living Wage can have a hugely positive impact on things like productivity, quality of work, reduced absenteeism and retention of talented staff.
“In a recent independent study 84% of businesses believed paying the living wage led to increased productivity.”