The Living Wage: key to improving work-life balance

In this guest post, Guy Stallard, Head of Facilities at KPMG UK, argues that a living wage is key to improving work-life balance.

The Living Wage is being discussed widely by politicians, which is unsurprising as recent KPMG research showed that 5.2 million people in the UK are paid below the Living Wage rate, and there are wider concerns from the public about the rising costs of living. The view from many politicians across the political spectrum is that the Minimum Wage at its current level is insufficient. There are a growing number of employers, now over 700, who have voluntary accredited themselves for paying the Living Wage, including almost 10 per cent of the FTSE 100. Accredited businesses are finding that the productivity and flexibility of staff is improved for those paid the Living Wage, and in light of this I want to highlight just how the Living Wage improves the work-life balance of employees as well.

Individuals who only earn the Minimum Wage are likely to be working multiple jobs or excessive hours just to provide a basic standard of living for their families. Those who receive the Living Wage have personal stories on how it changed their lives – such as housing conditions, time spent with families, or the challenge of providing adequate food and shelter.

I recall vividly, the testimony from one individual who now receives the Living Wage, that getting to work used to mean a four-hour bus journey and now means a one hour tube ride. According to a recent BBC report, earning minimum pay means some workers are unable to afford nutritious food or are forced to rely on food banks to feed themselves and their families. These daily struggles are hard for some to imagine but are very much a reality for many people working in the UK.

The Living Wage also helps individuals to gain a better work-life balance. At the launch of the new Living Wage rate last November, Lacey, a worker paid the Living Wage explained that it meant she and her child could finally move out of her parent’s home and live independently as a family unit. The small things that meant a lot to her were the ability to take her son to karate and football lessons. A catering worker in London told me that before moving to a Living Wage job they used to be on the Minimum Wage, having to work weekends which, “no longer allowed me to survive without working my body to the brink”.

Another worker giving testimony in the North West recently said that the Living Wage allows him to work confidently as a father and provider. It means not relying on friends for support, loans and food banks and gave him pride in being able to feed his own family. In another example, Amin, a worker from London who previously worked two jobs, explained that it wasn’t just him who benefited from receiving the Living Wage. Amin was able to prioritise the one job, spend more time with his family, and set up a youth group in his community – showing that the benefits spread wider than the individual.

The Living Wage is not a one-stop solution to finding the best work-life balance, but it has certainly helped tens of thousands of people to earn enough in a full-time role to maintain an acceptable yet modest standard of living. Compelling evidence shows that those working for less than the Living Wage are overstretched, and unable to spend time with the families they work to provide for. Being able to strike a work-life balance not only allows them to focus at work, with increased productivity and commitment, but allows quality time with their family and community.

Everyone who supports employees being able to live in a socially acceptable manner should applaud the organisations which are accredited Living Wage employers and support more firms to make the change, which will benefit individuals, their communities and the UK overall.

Guy Stallard is Head of Facilities for KPMG UK, responsible for services into the offices, and has a team of over 700 in-house and outsourced staff. Guy is a member of KPMG UK’s Corporate Responsibility Leadership Committee where there is a strategic focus on social mobility, the environment, and promotion of the Living Wage. Since KPMG became a living wage employer in 2006, Guy has worked within and outside of the organisation to promote the Living Wage and share his experiences of implementation. Guy also represents business as a commissioner on the Living Wage Commission, which is led by the Archbishop of York.
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