£5.14bn vs £8 an hour – the ugly truth about unequal pay in the beautiful game

The Premier League's latest pay pack really brings home the troubling extent of inequality in modern Britain


It’s a record – £5.14bn for a TV deal to show domestic English football. This represents not only a sum bigger than the GDP of 48 countries, but also the Premier League’s global might and commercial reach.

However the fact that most of the elite clubs in England still do not pay all of their employees the Living Wage – worth £7.85 an hour (£9.15 in London) – is a stark warning of the inequality that still blights both the game and modern day Britain. If that’s not a national scandal then I don’t know what is.

Whilst the players are the stars, it’s the football club employees – from ground staff to suppliers – who undertake crucial work that fosters much of the match day atmosphere that the English game is so famed for, and which makes it so lucrative and appealing to TV companies.

It is the security staff, cleaners and caterers that help make match days possible. Such work should not be underestimated by the multimillion pound organisations that rely on their labour. It’s much easier to argue that all workers should be paid a wage they are able to live on – harder to justify why some footballers deserve their £300k a week wage packet.

Paying the Living Wage must become a priority especially for the Premier League clubs and other bigger clubs because they receive so much of the £5.14 billion TV deal. The example set by FC United of Manchester, who play in the seventh tier of English Football, who announced in October 2014 it was to pay all of its employees a living wage, puts the general inaction and unwillingness of elite clubs to shame.

Consider for a second the six-figure wages Manchester United FC pays to star players such as Wayne Rooney and Angel Di Maria per week, as well as a reported £108,000 a day to the club’s ambassador Sir Alex Ferguson. Alongside the sheer scale of this week’s TV deal, the fact the club fails to pay its employees a living wage is as unjustifiable as it is unjust. Such comparisons really do bring home the troubling extent of inequality in modern day Britain.

Comments that the Premier League is ‘not a charity‘ from its chief executive Richard Scudamore only exacerbate this injustice. Dismissing the genuine concerns of club staff who help make the Premier League the safe and accessible arena it is for fans and audiences is frankly not good enough.

Far from being a charity, the poverty pay of Premier League clubs risks pushing their staff to rely on charity to make ends meet.

Football clubs are more than just 11 expensively paid players on a pitch. The roots of many football clubs often emerged from, and represent, working class communities in many ways. A desire amongst fans to remember these roots is shown in a recent GMB survey which found that 92 per cent of fans think clubs should aim to ‘set an example to their local community.’

Paying the living wage would be an excellent start. Unsurprisingly, the survey also found that 84 per cent of supporters want Premier League and Football League clubs to pay the living wage. Only four per cent were against it.

Fortunately, change appears within reach. Chelsea Football Club became the first club in the Premier League to sign up to pay the (London) Living Wage in December last year. This throws down the gauntlet and sets an excellent example to the capital’s other clubs.

Hearts in Scotland and Luton Town of League Two have already made the leap to become living wage employers. With the greatest respect – if they can afford it, Premier League clubs definitely can.

If we saw clubs indulge in the kind of wage one-upmanship at the bottom of the pay scale as we see during the transfer window negotiations, I’m sure the problem of low pay among football staff could be fixed almost instantly, resolving the ugly truth about unequal pay in the beautiful game.

Fiona Twycross AM is Labour’s London Assembly economic spokesperson. Follow her on Twitter 

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