By Mary McManus
The Christian Fellowship Church (CFC) has become the latest organisation to sign up as a living wage employer in NI and join the Living Wage for East Belfast Campaign.
CFC has six sites across Northern Ireland. Signing up as a living wage employer has seen them uplift the wages of five employees and become just the second religious organisation in NI to take this step.
The real living wage, as opposed to the national living wage, is independently calculated every year by the Resolution Foundation for the Living Wage Foundation and is based on what people need to get by.
It also differs from the national living wage in that it is paid to all those 18 and above. It is currently £10.90 per hour across the UK and £11.95 in London. It is set to rise in October. Signing up as a living wage employer is voluntary and means paying all directly and indirectly employed staff a living wage.
There are now more than 13,500 organisations in the UK signed up as Living Wage employers which has delivered pay rises to more than 430,000 people. In NI, 73 businesses/organisations are signed up compared with 3,307 in Scotland and 547 in Wales. As a region, NI has consistently had one of the highest rates of people being paid below the real living wage in the UK. However, there are signs of hope as more and more businesses here are signing up. This year saw Belfast City Council become the first council in NI to sign up as a living wage employer.
The Scaffolding Project, an anti-poverty project based at Eastside Partnership, launched the Living Wage Campaign for East Belfast last year. Funded by the Urban Villages initiative, the campaign is the only one of its kind in NI and aims to break the cycle of poverty through raising awareness of the living wage and increasing the number of people receiving it. The campaign has also set up a living wage action group made up of local living wage employers who are working together to make East Belfast a Living Wage Place. The campaign is delighted to welcome CFC to this group to represent the faith sector.
Quaker Social Action was not just the first religious organisation in NI to accredit as a living wage employer, it was also the first in NI to do so back in 2012. In Britain, a range of churches have embraced the living wage seeing it as a vital component of their work. The Living Wage Foundation lists 133 religious organisations as living wage employers on their website.
According to a briefing by Church Action on Poverty, it is supported by the Methodist Church, the Churches of England, Scotland and Wales, the United Reformed Church, the Catholic Church and The Society of Friends. The Bishop of London, Rt Revd Sarah Mullally is one of the co-chairs with Mayor Sadiq Khan of the steering group for Making London a Living Wage City.
Speaking of their accreditation, Garath Baxter, Associate Pastor with CFC, said that for them paying a fair wage is the right thing to do. As a church, it aligns with their core values of social justice. It is also part of a wider agenda for the church who believe in using what economic power they have for social good. In practice, this means paying the real living wage and as far as possible buying from local suppliers. They are keen to encourage other churches and businesses to follow suit and sign up as living wage employers.