Living Wages

i. Aim/vision:

To bring historical research on ‘living wages’ to the attention of major UK employer and market leader in groceries, Tesco, to campaign for the adoption of a living wage policy by the company.

ii. Key messages

  • The development of a living wage has long roots within British society, and has been offered as a method of solving working poverty and improving the conditions of family life without burdening the state;
  • Historical evidence has shown that employment does not necessitate against poverty; from the 1900s, social investigations by reformers like Charles Booth and Seebohm Rowntree revealed that poverty was not necessarily caused by thriftlessness or laziness, but existed even in those families who had a carefully managed income;
  • This particularly affected women, children and the elderly, and thus they remained the most dependent on the state for support;
  • In the interwar period, groups such as the Independent Labour Party investigated living wage legislation as a way of incorporating family allowance payments from the state into the wage system;
  • Despite the introduction of minimum wages on 1 April 1999, evidence suggests that the minimum wage is not an adequate reflection of the costs of living in the UK if one is to maintain any kind of quality of life;

iii. Policy Context

  • More than 6 million people earn less than the living wage and various think tank reports have shown that the minimum wage may not be enough for the most rudimentary of daily expenses.
  • Members of London’s Citizens established the Living Wage movement in 2001; households were frustrated that working two minimum wage jobs did not give them sufficient income to cover the costs of living and enjoy family life.
  • In 2005, following a series of successful Living Wage campaigns and growing interest from employers, the Greater London Authority established the Living Wage Unit to calculate the London Living Wage. The Living Wage campaign has since grown into a national movement.
  • On 2nd January 2013, 134 companies were listed as accredited Living Wage Employers by the Living Wage foundation, who count Boris Johnson, David Cameron, and Ed Miliband, amongst their supporters.
  • Labour is looking at ways of making the living wage the new norm; including naming and shaming listed companies who do not pay the wage through corporate governance rules.
  • Though being a Living Wage employer is recognized as good employment practice, it still remains a voluntary scheme.
  • Debate about living wages predominantly rests on economic concerns. While recognizing the value of a scheme, it has been argued that the current economic climate where the government needs to focus on recovery, cutting the deficit and keeping inflation down, such a scheme is simply not feasible. Others have argued that living wages policy will reduce employment and discourage investment within the UK.
  • Tesco is the largest supermarket in the UK and prides itself on corporate responsibility. Their five ‘Community Promises’ include actively supporting local communities; buying and selling products responsibly; caring for the environment; providing customers with healthy choices and creating good jobs and careers. Their wages vary and though some are more than the minimum, the company is yet to adopt a Living Wage policy.

iv. Objectives:

  1. To both pressure and incentivise Tesco to adopt a Living Wage policy.
  2. To facilitate at least two face-to-face meetings between historians and top UK employer Tesco between 1 January 2013 and 31 November 2013;
  3. To facilitate a public event, in the form of a debate, involving historians, a Living Wage Employer, the Living Wage foundation, and major UK employer Tesco, who does not pay the Living Wage by 28 February 2014.
  4. To secure evidence of the impact of the historians’ engagement in at least three media broadcasts or publications by 31 March 2014.
  5. To arrange an interdisciplinary seminar with economists on the economic implications of the Living Wage in relation to the historical perspective by 1 December 2013;
  6. To publish a special History and Policy issue on living wages with input from pure economists and economic and social historians based on the results of the seminar by 1 February 2014.

v. Audience

  • Major UK employers based on Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development data.
  • Living Wage campaigners including the Living Wage Foundation and local movements.
  • Think tanks and other academics, especially economists, researching/communicating about Living Wages.
  • Relevant specialist media to reach policy makers in this field.

vi. Activities

  • Work with the Living Wage Foundation to facilitate meetings within the company’s HR department at which historians from the History and Policy network can speak about historical themes relevant to Living Wages, highlighting its ethical positives and engage in discussion about its incorporation into Tesco’s community promises.
  • Adopt a policy of naming and shaming unaccredited companies in the UK, including Tesco, as part of a broader campaign for living wages, using Twitter and Facebook accounts to accrue support.
  • Organise an online petition for Tesco to adopt the living wage as an example to its competitors.
  • Encourage the boycotting of Tesco in favour of companies that do pay living wages where possible. If Tesco adopt the policy, encourage consumers to boycott other supermarkets in favour of Tesco.
  • Engage with economists to develop joint research papers on the role of Living Wages.
  • Organise a public debate where representative from Tesco and other supermarkets and historians can engage in discussion and answer questions from a large audience. Involve favourable media sources like the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee to increase coverage. Live tweet from the event.

vii. Monitoring & evaluation


  • Evaluate meetings and public debate using feedback forms;
  • Make notes during events of discussion between historians and HR managers, to record evidence of how history is received, and any criticisms or questioning of the history or its relevance;
  • Engage in web-based and media monitoring to evaluate impact of H&P web outputs in the wider public world, including responses to online petitions, members ‘liking’ the Facebook group and numbers of followers and retweets on Twitter.


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