Birmingham MP Liam Byrne has called on the University of Birmingham’s senior leadership team to help tackle in-work poverty and soaring demand for foodbanks by supporting the effort to make Birmingham a real Living Wage city.
Speaking to staff and students at a special event co-organised by the University of Birmingham branches of UCU and UNISON last Thursday (30 May), Mr Byrne said: “We’re not going to get rid of foodbanks until we get rid of poverty pay.
“Trussell Trust [the charity which coordinates the nationwide network of foodbanks] have now delivered something like 55k food parcels last year and demand is soaring. One of the reasons for that is we have over a quarter of a million people in our region who are paid less than what they need to live on. That’s calculated at £9 an hour.
“We’re calling for everybody including the University of Birmingham senior leadership to join us in a big moral mission which is to help make our city become a real Living Wage city. We want to be a place where no-one is mired in poverty because they’re just not paid enough to go to work.”
What is the real Living Wage?
The real Living Wage is based on the cost of living and is voluntarily paid by over 5,000 UK employers who believe a hard day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay.
In April, Mr Byrne made headlines when he turned down an honorary role at UoB because it is not an accredited Living Wage employer, stating in his letter: “Implementation of the real Living Wage is therefore absolutely essential in tackling poverty in the city.” (https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/mp-turns-down-major-honour-16084593).
Mr Byrne also conducted a survey of publicly-funded organisations in Birmingham, including universities, hospitals and schools, and found fewer than one in five have Living Wage accreditation.
Benefits of accreditation
Speakers from UCU and UNISON explained to Mr Byrne that the University’s senior leadership have repeatedly refused calls for them to become a real Living Wage employer, forcing staff unions and students fight year and after year to limit poverty pay on campus. UNISON are currently balloting their members over industrial action after the University once again refused their efforts to explore Living Wage status.
The speakers also explained the benefits of Living Wage accreditation would extend beyond staff directly employed by the University. Under the Living Wage scheme, Living Wage employers are required to ensure contractors and outsourced staff, such as low paid staff at the University’s new Edgbaston Park Hotel company, are paid at least £9 an hour. UCU explained Living Wage accreditation could even benefit staff employed at the University’s controversial Dubai campus, where there is evidence of widespread wage theft and other rights violations.
A spokesperson for Birmingham UCU said: “We’re pleased that Liam Byrne MP has backed our longstanding demand that the University of Birmingham becomes a real Living Wage employer. The University’s website says we are ‘The global university at the heart of an ambitious city’. It’s time for the University’s senior leadership to act accordingly and get behind the campaign to make Birmingham a real Living Wage city.”
Help make University of Birmingham a real Living Wage
Want to make sure everyone works for or with the University of Birmingham earns enough to live on? Here’s what you can do right now to help:
- If you work for the University and are a member of UNISON, vote yes for industrial action to give your union the power to secure the Living Wage through negotiations with management the real Living Wage.
- If you’re not already in a union, join one today. Join UCU if you’re an academic or academic-related member of staff on campus. If you’re a member of support staff, join UNISON
- If you’re a student, contact The Guild of Students and tell them to support the real Living Wage
- Want to get more involved. Please join our staff and students real Living Wage campaign group. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll add you to the group.
A note about the West Midlands Mayoral contest
UCU and UNISON University of Birmingham branches invited Liam Byrne MP onto campus because of his recent public call for the University to become a real Living Wage employer. Neither branch has endorsed a candidate for the forthcoming West Midlands Mayoral election and this event should not be viewed as an implied endorsement.