Last month we ran a piece on the future of work as part of our ongoing involvement with the Our Fair City campaign. This month we return to the topic in broader terms. What are the barriers to fairer work and what can we do to make working life more equitable for the people of Sheffield?
Sheffield recently grabbed headlines as the ‘low pay capital of Britain’. Although our wages increased slightly more than the national average between 2011 and 2016, the Resolution Foundation found that hourly rates here are still 10% below the national average, in part due to a large number of low-paying jobs in retail and administration.
The National Living Wage (read: ‘minimum wage rebranded by the Conservative Party’) – £7.50 for over 25s as of April – is a start, but it’s a misnomer, because it’s not enough to live on comfortably. The Living Wage Foundation, which sets and administers the actual living wage, lists 42 accredited businesses in Yorkshire and the Humber who voluntarily pay a minimum wage of £8.45.
One of those businesses is Delicious Alchemy, which provides gluten-free food and drinks, as well as recipes, news and guides. Its founder, Emma Killilea, was shocked to hear that 22% of people using food banks run by the Trussell Trust were doing so due to low incomes.
On the Delicious Alchemy website, Emma says: “The figure really shocked me, and made me determined to provide a fair wage to all my employees that enables them to enjoy a reasonable standard of living. Nobody should have to use a food bank, particularly those who are working.”
Sheffield City Council also pays the living wage and in 2016/17 provided business rates relief to Living Wage Foundation accredited employers whose property had a rateable value of £50,000 or below.
Of course, inequality isn’t just affected by hourly rates of pay – household income after tax is arguably more important – but given that we can’t set our own rates of income tax as a city, we need to guarantee an actual living wage to all workers.
92% of Sheffield’s 16 to 17 year olds are in full-time education, training, an apprenticeship or another job with training. However, there has been a drop in the number of 16 and 17 year olds living in Sheffield.
Sheffield College is one institution actively working to boost the life chances of young people in the city. Over 1,700 of its students are currently on an apprenticeship, a figure which chief executive Paul Corcoran expects to double this year with the introduction of the national Apprenticeship Levy. This includes adult learners, as well as young people.
Talking about the importance of linking education with work, Paul told me: “Get the education system right and you’ll have a massive difference [...] It’s about those progression routes, and raising aspirations and expectations.”
Central to the College’s approach is the concept of ‘inclusive growth’ – that any economic growth we experience as a city must be distributed far more evenly than it is currently. With half of the College’s students coming from disadvantaged postcode areas and one in three coming from the BME community, its positive impact on the city is significant.
Organisations supporting UK workers continue to be under resourced and, according to ONS statistics, the proportion of UK workers with trade union membership fell to 6.5 million (24.7%) in 2015, its lowest level since 1995 and significantly below its 1979 peak of 13 million.
This, combined with central government cuts to legal aid and the imposition of employment tribunal fees, has made it much harder for employees to enforce their rights at work. Giving written evidence to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee recently, Sheffield Citizens Advice made the point that “any measure for protection of workers is only as effective as the means of its enforcement”.
Even workers who are aware of their rights often struggle to enforce them, a fact supported by the recent news that 360 companies in the UK had paid less than the legal minimum to over 15,500 of their staff, totalling almost £1 million in underpayments. This pales in comparison with the ONS estimate that a massive 362,000 jobs did not pay the minimum wage in April 2016.
Some employee rights you may be unaware of:
Right to ask for flexible working – If you have been in post for at least 26 weeks, you have the right to ask for flexible working, including working part-time, school hours, flexitime, home working, job sharing and more. Your employer needs to have a ‘good business reason’ to say no and you can put in another request after 12 months.
Right to shared parental leave – As a mother-to-be, unless you are an agency or casual worker, or you are on a zero-hours contract, you are entitled to maternity leave of 52 weeks. As a father or partner of a mother-to-be, you are entitled to 1 or 2 weeks paid leave. However, the 52 weeks of maternity leave can also be shared between mother and partner, and in some cases can run concurrently, with both parents off work at the same time. Both parents also have a right to ‘reasonable time off’ as unpaid parental leave if they have been in post for at least a year.
Right to ‘blow the whistle’ – From the day you start work, you have the right not to suffer detriment or dismissal for whistleblowing on a matter of public concern or malpractice, as long as the information you disclose relates to a criminal offence or failure to follow the law, a miscarriage of justice, a health and safety issue, damage to the environment, or an attempt to cover up any of the above – although there are some exceptions to this.
State of Sheffield Report 2017: Key Statistics
- 68.6% of people in Sheffield are in employment, surpassing pre-recession levels.
- There was a 10% rise in self-employment in Sheffield between 2015 and 2016.
- In Sheffield we are paid 10% less than the national average, but our wages have grown by 11% since 2011.
- 9% of jobs in Sheffield are in the manufacturing sector.
- The percentage of people in the city who hold no qualifications is higher than the national average (6.8% compared to 5.5%) and 16 to 24 year olds are three times as likely to be out of work than people aged 25 or over.
- 8.9% of Sheffield’s 16 to 17 year olds are in apprenticeships – the second highest proportion of any major city.
- Millennials – defined as people reaching young adulthood in the early 21st century – make up 29% of Sheffield’s population, the city’s largest generation.
- People in Yorkshire and the Humber region working on zero-hour contracts rose from 2.1% to 3.4% between 2015 and 2016.
State of Sheffield 2017 full report: bit.ly/18tdcGC
The Our Fair City ‘Fairer Work’ campaign will conclude with an event as part of Festival of Debate 2017, called ‘Does Sheffield Just Need A Pay Rise?’. More information to come soon.
Photo: Jesse OrricoSam Walby