Labour-led councils across the North East must pay their staff the living wage if they want to tackle issues like child and in-work poverty, union leaders said last night.
Unison and the TUC say local authorities must give their lowest-paid staff the accredited £7.85-an-hour needed for people to afford a decent standard of living in 2014.
None of the region’s councils are yet paying the living wage and it comes a year after the TUC called on civic bosses to lead the way and to consider the “ripple effect” a wage boost would have.
As a result, the North East is missing an opportunity to boost the region’s spending power and to lift its people out of poverty, union leaders say.
It comes as record numbers of people turn to food banks for help and in-work poverty continues to grow.
Neil Foster, Policy and Campaigns Officer for the Northern TUC, said: “There’s no denying the fact that there are more councils paying a living wage in Yorkshire than there are in the North East.
“If we’re to tackle issues like child poverty then that inevitably means addressing poverty pay and lifting low family incomes.
“A living wage isn’t just the right thing to do morally but will boost the spending power of many local people, get money in tills and support local economies. Unions across the region are pressing councils to do what they can to deliver fairer pay in the face of diabolical cuts from the Coalition government.”
Clare Williams, Unison’s regional convener, added: “The reality is that this region has been the hardest-hit by the current Government’s austerity measures and we have faced much harsher spending cuts than other regions.
“The progress we have made is to be welcomed but we want to make more progress towards getting the nationally accredited living wage.
“This region has a very high level of in-work poverty and quite low wages across the patch and one of the highest rates of children living in poverty.
“It would be a very positive step for councils to adopt the living wage.
“It would lift people out of the poverty they are currently living in and make them more financially secure.”
Newcastle City Council said it will pay its staff £7.75-an-hour, up 20p from the current rate of £7.55 while South Tyneside Council said it will pay £7.11 from April 2015.
Both Newcastle and South Tyneside councils have said they are committed to paying the full living wage but say austerity measures are crippling local authorities’ funds.
Deputy Leader of Newcastle City Council, Councillor Joyce McCarty, said: “We are committed to increasing the Newcastle Living Wage to the national rate over the next two years. We believe that a living wage is good for business and good for Newcastle and we are encouraging all employers across the city to guarantee it for their staff.”
Councillor Ed Malcolm, Lead Member for Resources and Innovation at South Tyneside Council, said: “Of course we would have liked to implement the full living wage with immediate effect but given the unprecedented cuts imposed on the authority we have had to take a prudent approach.
“When we have further information on our future funding, we will sit down with our trade union colleagues to consider the affordability of implementing the full Living Wage from 2016 with a view to eliminating low pay across the Council’s workforce.”
Gateshead pays its lowest paid staff £6.90-an-hour while councils in Durham, North Tyneside and Northumberland have said they are working towards introducing a living wage.
Grant Davey, Leader of Northumberland County Council, said: “As a council we have aspirations to adopt the living wage by the middle of next year but there is still more work to be done to be able to achieve this. We also need to take account of the authority’s budget as we must continue to protect vital services which are being threatened by government cuts.”