Finally, success helping low paid people working for Merton Council

For the last 9 years Merton Lib Dems have been campaigning to help some of the poorest paid and hardest working people in our community – those who  look after people who need care.

We started 9 years ago with a question from a member of the public – me – at a Council meeting about the Council paying its staff the London Living Wage (LLW).   The answer was that it would cost £275k and would cause all sorts of difficulties.

A few months later  the Council announced that it had decided to pay all staff at least the LLW: the many difficulties to doing this had disappeared and the cost reduced to £47k.

That didn’t cover those working for Merton’s contractors though and in particular those working in social care. Mary-Jane Jeanes – then the sole Liberal Democrat councillor – proposed a motion that asked for Merton to commit to paying the staff of contractors the LLW and to commit to become a Living Wage Employer.

It was voted down by the Labour Group.

In 2018 a much increased Lib Dem Group took up the issue. We asked questions, we proposed motions and amendments usually fruitlessly: Labour would not budge. But in July last year we had a breakthrough – Labour agreed to amendments saying that the Council agreed in principle to pay contractors staff the LLW and that the Council would find out how much it would cost to do ( in the past we had been told this was too difficult) .

Yesterday we had the Council’s Budget meeting and a Lib Dem motion was passed welcoming the fact that the budget now contains money for staff working for contractors to be paid the LLW, as contracts come up for renewal.

That’s not the perfect  solution – in theory that money could be taken out and we will be pressing for the Council to make a binding commitment by signing up as a Living Wage Employer.

It’s often tempting as a minority group to think we can’t achieve a lot. But by continuous pressure, by not giving up and by shaming Labour into finally agreeing, we will have made a real difference to the lives of people who do difficult , often under valued jobs and for whom the difference  between LLW (£10.85 an hour) and the Minimum wage (£8.72 an hour) will make their lives just a bit better.

I hope this is something that other Council groups and Local parties will take up – not only is it the right thing to do and fits with our core values but it is a good complement to Ed’s campaign on unpaid Carers.

* Simon McGrath is a councillor in Wimbledon and a member of the board of Liberal Reform.

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  • nigel hunter 4th Mar '21 - 1:00pm

    I trust this strategy can also work in Tory controlled councils

  • “We started 9 years ago with a question from a member of the public – me – at a Council meeting about the Council paying its staff the London Living Wage (LLW). The answer was that it would cost £275k and would cause all sorts of difficulties”.

    Well done you, Councillor McGrath. But it wasn’t just the alleged Meanies of Merton
    who needed a stiff word from the good Councillor. I do so hope he also had a stiff word with the Lib Dem guys ‘n gals who were at Westminster in government controlling the purse strings at the time. I happen to remember it very well as a Lib Dem Cabinet Member for Social Work struggling with the budget.

    I also recall the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reporting : “Local authorities in England lost 27 per cent of their spending power between 2010/11 and 2015/16 in real terms”.

    Talking about how the low paid struggle, I notice ‘The Times’ reported last Saturday that a very Senior Facebook Executive (late of this Parish) is now on a salary of £ 2.7 million and has a £ 7 million pound house in ‘an exclusive area of California’. Nice work if you can get it, Sir, and a tad warmer than the Pennine hills part of Sheffield.

  • Nigel Jones 5th Mar '21 - 9:33am

    Thanks Simon; an excellent example for the rest of us to follow in our local elections campaign. We need to combine a call for councils to act more fairly with the call for devolution of resources to local councils.

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