Sandy MacDonaldPoverty is a complex topic. I’ve met a huge number of people with different perspectives on the challenges and on specific aspects of it. With this being Living Wage Week in the UK, I thought it would be a good time to share some of those perspectives.

Over the past two years, I’ve been involved with a number of initiatives that have given me different insights. I’m Chair of Living Wage Scotland’s leadership group, I’ve been part of a Prince’s Trust taskforce, and most recently I’ve been involved with the Edinburgh Poverty Commission.

Through the Commission, I’ve heard from some amazing people who have generously shared their lived experience. From single parents who spent weeks trying to balance impossible demands of school times and childcare alongside variable shift patterns – before being forced to admit defeat – to people who have had to choose whether to keep their children warm or fed on a given day.

I’ve also seen patterns emerge. The disproportionate number of women, ethnic minorities and disabled people among those we’ve met. The clear toll that living in poverty takes on mental wellbeing. People of different ages describing an endless cycle of programmes and courses giving them qualifications and skills, but that never led to an actual job. And, more often than not, people being in work, but not earning enough, nor having a predictable and stable income.

Employers can make a positive difference

Far too frequently, people living in adversity are treated with stigma and suspicion. But, at the Commission, we’ve also heard from a number of different organisations providing approaches that work to make a genuine, tangible difference to people in the longer term.

One example was educational institutions who help people from different backgrounds access, and sustain, affordable study and work. Another is paying the ‘real’ living wage, calculated to keep pace with the cost of living. People who work for a living wage employer describe the positive difference it makes to them and their families’ lives – not just on a practical level, but also in the fact that they feel valued by their employer.

Employers who go further – those who put programmes and support in place to ensure recruitment is inclusive, offer apprenticeships that pay enough to be accessible to those without wealth behind them, or provide genuine opportunities for meaningful training and progression – were talked about in glowing terms by their employees. It was obvious the impact it had on loyalty, advocacy, engagement, retention and productivity.

Helping people take control of their lives

Something that became clear in Edinburgh was that people don’t want to rely on the charity and kindness of strangers – they want to be in control of their lives. The problem of insecure and volatile work, with unpredictable shift patterns, came up repeatedly.

Our company is one of four organisations piloting the new Living Hours programme. This offers huge potential to address the key concerns raised by employees, by ensuring decent notice periods, and a right to a contract offering guaranteed minimum hours of work, unless the worker requests otherwise.

These are practices that the people who know best – those with lived experience – have told us work for them and make a tangible, long-term difference.

People have a right to expect equality of opportunity, for hard work to pay fairly, and for there to be routes out of poverty. If you’re an employer, and you’re in a position to offer any of the positive interventions I’ve mentioned, I’d urge you to do so. They’ll pay off for your business, for the people you want to make a difference to, and to the communities in which we live.

Sandy MacDonald, Head of Corporate Sustainability

> Living Wage Week in the UK

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