In praise of a Real Living Wage

Given that it is virtually impossible to live with health and dignity on minimum wage, I wholeheartedly welcome the wage increases as long overdue – and not yet enough.

With or without Covid, removing 1.3 million EU workers – by making them feel insecure and unwelcome, or by making them illegal – was bound to disrupt the job market.

Unsurprisingly, the impact is being felt most in the industries that have become most reliant on East European labour over the last 20 years: food manufacturing, hospitality, care, transport, and farming. With so many vacancies, wages are rising fast. If there is a plan behind this, I must have missed it.

Don’t call me a ‘remoaner’. Given that it is virtually impossible to live with health and dignity on minimum wage, I wholeheartedly welcome the wage increases as long overdue – and not yet enough.

As of this month, Riverford will be a Real Living Wage employer, meaning we pay a minimum of £9.50 per hour. Adding our last year’s profit share, divided equally between all co-owners, would bring that up to about £11. (For comparison, the government’s living wage is £8.91.) Given how much rents have risen, especially in Devon, it is questionable how real even this is as a ‘living wage’; surely any remnant of a social contract is broken when hard-working people are driven from their homes to make way for Airbnbs.

The implications of the current crisis go well beyond rising wages. It is part of a wider pattern of instability that we have all experienced over the past five years. Like many others, I am tired; tired of relentlessly adapting to change; tired of conflict, and of the hopeless leadership that inflames it. Some of this instability was unavoidable, but some was utterly predictable, and could have been avoided with better planning, leadership, and policy frameworks.

Good businesses (ones which last, and which do or make something of value) need stability: to build strong relationships, to improve in small, determined steps, and to have the confidence to plan and invest for the long term.

Entrepreneurial leaps of genius, seizing sudden opportunities and striking great deals, may help to sell dodgy face masks – but rarely contribute to the stable, long-standing businesses that sustain our economy and maintain social cohesion.

My biggest worry is that we will be paying the price for this sustained instability for decades, through reduced investments not just in business and quality employment, but also in, for example, maintaining schools and hospitals, training staff, or the urgent challenge of decarbonising our National Grid to address the climate crisis.

To view current vacancies at Riverford, click here


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  1. As a youngster we would see Edie Stobart lorries everywhere – so popular you had to be the owner of a model one – and their drivers in jacket,, white shirt and tie. Your dad would toot the horn of the car and you’d get a toot back – really valued members of the the road community.

    I read Felicity Lawrence’s op-ed piece in the Guardian
    and it made me think about wages and conditions.
    A conversation with a Royal Mail colleague ( I am a retired postie) showed why RM logistics – certainly a ‘just in time’ type of service maintaining a legally required Universal Service Obligation – has not had the problems that other ‘service’ industries have suffered. HGV drivers in Royal Mail are paid well, have ‘good’ working conditions and more importantly are highly unionised. As a business ( although still seen by its workers as a public service) it is the CWU that has maintained standards not the employer. It also, because of its security and confidentiality protocols tends not to employ casual ( implicitly migrant workers) staff.

    So, questions for Riverford:
    Even with the wages of a ordinary postie ( close to £13/hour) affordable housing in my part of the world is impossible to afford, so the option is privately rented and all its precariousness or for the younger ones remaining in the family home. I notice South Hams District Council declared a rental housing crisis due to Ab&b and second homes….and Totnes prices are ‘London’ prices. If Rightmove shows 7 rental properties within 3 miles of Totnes at extortionate prices where are your co-workers living? Do you provide quality housing on site?

    And thank you for acknowledging that your max of £11 /hour is not enough….just a little bit more to £12/hour?

    Like careworkers and posties and others ( lorry drivers?) , we are seen as semi-skilled workers, paid ‘accordingly’ yet vital to the functioning of what is seen as an efficient market economy – so efficient, as Felicity Lawrence states, that it has fallen over.

    At least I can get my organic milk from Riverford as Milk and More is bloody useless at the moment.

  2. Worker insecurity has long been a feature of government policymaking.

    Particularly for those who worshipped at the feet of that well-known psychopath, Ayn Rand.

    And many of those at the top of the food chain don’t even care about business either, since they get their money from the stock market and do well even out of crashes.

    They don’t even care that they are at the top of a house of cards which could come tumbling down at any time – they can always hole up in their bunkers.

    And there always politicians whom they have bought to keep things the way they like them.

    Nothing changes. I remember my parents getting whiplash as the government kept squeezing in the 1960s so they could not borrow what they needed to keep the business going, and experienced severe cash flow problems.

    It really is time we voted in more people who understand what real life is like, whatever their party. People governing on the basis of dogma rather than real life experience, and those out for their own profit, are a danger to us all. In the meantime we need to do as much as we can for ourselves and our planet – lower our food miles, buy locally, educate each other, lower our carbon footprint, build businesses organically without massive debt, run for local office, etc., etc.

  3. My Grandad was a Gangmaster, my Father was a Gangmaster. I worked for my Father at a wholesale nursery growing supplying big chain garden centers with shrubs


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