A Lidl bit closer to a genuine Living Wage

How can premium chains continue to argue that a living wage isn’t possible when the discount chains clearly think it is?


In the five-minute walk from the station to my office in City Hall, I pass at least ten shops selling coffee. Not one is paying the living wage, all but one of them are part of major chains.

The point at which one of them pays the living wage (which may not be so far off) will be the point at which there is real consumer choice to opt in to a truly ‘decent’ cup of coffee that might allow the person serving us and their families and children to have a high enough income to do more than scrape by.

Today’s announcement that Lidl is the first of the UK’s supermarket chains to pay above the Living Wage, including the higher London Living Wage in London, takes us a step closer to having this genuine consumer choice.

How can the premium chains – and supermarkets that trade on being ‘ethical’ –  continue to argue it isn’t possible when the discount chains clearly think it is? The Co-operative, for example, has a long track record in promoting ‘fair trade’ but their shops are still not paying the living wage to their staff.

It feels like we are reaching a tipping point.

The Living Wage Foundation has done well to highlight the problem and in trying to persuade businesses of the benefits, but as activists and consumers we need to use our buying power to support their work, and the campaigns of trade unions, where we can.

The government’s cynical acquisition of the language of the living wage at the point at which they slashed tax credits suggests that they recognise that people think wages should be high enough to live on.

Many of us campaigning for higher pay for the lowest paid workers had understandable concerns that they had seriously undermined the whole concept. Announcements by companies like Costa that they would increase prices to pay the new higher rate for the statutory living wage have been unhelpful and reinforced this fear.

Some supermarkets have argued that the overall package for workers (in terms of discounts) makes up for not paying the living wage. If other supermarkets follow Lidl’s lead, as they surely must now do, we should be mindful that, while the bottom line remains that a pay packet should be enough to live on, some retailers may try to claw back higher wages through cutting back on other benefits.

The Conservatives will use any voluntary progress – on top of their own higher rate of the minimum wage – as a reason not to introduce a statutory, genuinely, living wage. However, with the loss of tax credits about to hit millions of families, a living wage has never been more necessary.

In London, for example, once the tax credits are removed the mayor’s economics team estimate that the current London Living Wage would need to be raised to £11.65 in order to make up the difference.

The Tories will try to portray our new shadow chancellor’s announcement confirming Labour policy as being committed to a £10 rate as financially irresponsible. However, the more voluntary progress we make in the four and a half years before the next General Election, the less of a leap it is towards a genuine living wage rate to replace the National Minimum Wage.

We can do more in power than in opposition and some of our Labour councils are showing the way through how they award contracts in social care and delivery of school meals, for example, and Brent council has introduced incentives to local businesses.

A Labour mayor in London would make a massive difference. Sadiq Khan has already previously announced that he would raise the London Living Wage rate to £10 when he hopefully regains City Hall for Labour next May.

The current mayor has done well in portraying himself as a living wage champion but has in practice done little to make a difference to low paid workers. There are more people paid below the living wage in London – both in numbers and as a proportion – than when Boris Johnson took office.

We all now have the opportunity to be genuine living wage champions. Most of us shop in our nearest supermarket. Those of us who can should vote with our feet and start using our local Lidl, if we don’t already, and email our local supermarket to say why we are no longer going there. Those of us who can’t should still take two minutes to email our local supermarkets to suggest they follow the lead taken by Lidl.

It should not be viewed as revolutionary to suggest that people should be paid enough to get by. However, we do need a kind of revolution to make it happen. Winning in elections next year can help make this happen but on the high street, Lidl’s adoption of rates of pay above the living wage recommended by the Living Wage Foundation can help us make this happen.

If we all push together – as activists and as consumers – we will be that little bit closer to achieving a living wage.

Fiona Twycross AM is Labour’s London Assembly Economy Spokesperson. Follow her on Twitter

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14 Responses to “A Lidl bit closer to a genuine Living Wage”

  1. Nick

    it is a good start and hopefully a league of tables should come of it as it’s only right that the public know and those studying for their degree on who to work for and to reject those companies wherever possible just playing the fool and line their own pockets

    the days of exploitation should be ruled out and only a good education can stamp it out once and for all

    this is a good start by lidl and by the public rejecting the other stores they will soon fall into line

    at the end of the day the public are responsible on what goes on in society collectively and not the government

    any slackness in a any system will always be exploited by the government the Poverty Deniers

  2. blarg1987

    It is sad when challenged about more consumer choice, the counter argument that is usually used is consumers only need to know price and nothing else.

    We should be pushing more more information, on job adverts employers should publish salaries etc, links should be sent to websites that hold such information, organisations that do and do not give their staff tips separate form salaries etc, all should be published on an app or website that way then we can truly exercise people, power.

    However expect strong resistance from those who have most to loose.

  3. Jacko

    Immigrants force down wages. Go into any chain coffee shop in London. 90% of the staff are not British. Because they are prepared to supply their labour at low rates, companies are happy to meet that supply. If this did not happen, companies would be forced to bid up market rates to attract supply.

    Immigration = lower wages. Who was responsible for increasing immigration to 500% of historical levels? The last Labour government. The Labour Party = lower wages.

  4. blarg1987

    The Conservatives in opposition did not shout too loudly about it either, both parties where in pockets of the same people however,

  5. Peem Birrell

    How can premium chains continue to argue that a living wage isn’t possible when the discount chains clearly think it is?

    Maybe because the premium chains don’t force their workers to work unpaid overtime?

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