By Tony Okotie, Chief Executive, Community and Voluntary Action Tameside

The first week of November was Living Wage Week and I was fortunate to attend the ‘celebration’ event in Manchester. This brought together a number of living wage employers to recognise their contribution, and to consider what else we could and should do. I am proud to say that Community and Voluntary Action Tameside have adopted the living wage and became accredited at the start of the year.

In amongst the presentations was one which stood out. This was by a cleaner from Salford who talked passionately and genuinely about the positive impact that her employer, Salford Council, adopting the living wage has made on her and her family. I was also shocked to hear that 23 per cent of employees – 600,000 people – are paid LESS than the living wage in the North West alone. Nationally, there are 430 accredited living wage employers and in the North West there are 50, compared to just five a year ago. So, while there is significant growth, and awareness of the living wage, there is still a long way to go. Also, the campaign reported that the retail industry is still a major challenge for this.

All of this started me thinking about what the voluntary sector should do. We talk a lot about the impact of poverty and many organisations are involved in campaigning, which is fantastic. However we are also, collectively, a major employer. The recent State of the Sector research carried out by Sheffield Hallam University concluded that the sector employs 23,600 full time equivalent paid staff across Greater Manchester.

I contacted a number of voluntary organisations, including one high profile organisation, across Greater Manchester involved in ‘community building’. Many chose to avoid the question about whether they paid all of their staff at least the living wage and there were some who admitted that they didn’t. It disappoints me that many of those same organisations who campaign about reducing poverty or work with communities are failing to ‘practice what they preach’ by ensuring that their staff are paid fairly and failing to stand up and be counted in relation to signing the living wage charter.

If we believe in strong communities – and I do – we need to recognise that our staff live in communities themselves. To help build and sustain communities there is an economic element. We as employers have to provide leadership and for me, signing up to the living wage is one way of doing so.