The living wage

A guide for congregations toward paying the living wage

Why a living wage?

Work is traditionally considered to be the best route to prosperity. However, it is increasingly evident that even if people work, they and their children are not necessarily free of poverty.

It is astonishing that in a wealthy society like the UK, people who work full time can still live close to the margin of subsistence.

You shall not defraud your neighbour. You shall not steal, and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a labourer until morning. Leviticus 19:13

This is called in work poverty: people earn less than they need to ensure a decent standard of living. A significant contribution to this problem is low pay. To address the issue, campaigners and churches are calling for employers to provide a living wage.

What is the living wage?

  • It is a way of directly alleviating poverty and empowering the low paid by moving from supporting them through additional benefits to supporting them through pay.
  • It allows employers, in becoming a living wage employer, to make a positive statement about its employment practices by expressing an element of social justice in its decisions about wage levels.
  • It changes the mood in discussion about wage levels from how little should be paid, as is often the case in where jobs are funded through tendering processes, to making sure what is paid is at least enough to live.
  • In social care contexts, it can improve care by ensuring better qualified staff and reducing staff turnover. Although the National Minimum Wage protects workers from exploitation, it fails to keep them out of poverty. It helps people to survive, but life should be more than a constant battle for survival.
  • Further information can be found here.

How is a living wage rate calculated?

The calculation of a living wage is based on some simple principles:

  • Anyone working full time should have an income they can live off.
  • It is defined as the minimum level of pay and conditions that enable workers to have an adequate standard of living.
  • Calculations have shown that these standards cannot be met with the current minimum wage.
  • Currently the Government defines the line between an acceptable and unacceptable standard of living in terms of having an income less than 60 per cent of median income. Those who fall below this income level are considered to be poor. Measuring poverty in this way has been criticised for being arbitrary and for failing to convey any sense of what it means to live below the line, or whether living just above the line guarantees you a good quality life.
  • A minimum standard of living in Britain today includes, but is more than just, food, clothes and shelter. It is about having what you need in order to have the opportunities and choices necessary to participate in society.
  • The rate is calculated independently by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and is updated on a regular basis. The living wage has been set at £7.45 an hour for workers in Scotland. The details on how the rate is calculated are available here.

Being a living wage employer

A living wage employer commits to paying at least the current rate of Living Wage for all employees. The Church of Scotland, through the General Assembly, has expressed a desire to become a living wage employer. This would include all those employed by local churches and parishes. Although some progress has been made in there are some difficulties in achieving this. In particular, there is recognition that parishes have a wide variety of employment structures. These come about for a whole variety of reasons including. Some jobs are taken on by people at a local level as volunteers but are then offered an honorarium.

* The 2012 Assembly agreed therefore that congregations should work towards paying staff at least the Living Wage or have an action plan in place to do so by 2015.

If you have any further questions, please contact the Church and Society Council or call 0131 225 5722.

Moving towards being a living wage parish

Early tasks

Whether your congregation employs people or not, it’s worth thinking first about the bibles comments about wages and employment. Please look at our bible study. Congregations should approach this aspect in whatever way best suits their situation.

From the Bible study

Think about the paid work that takes place under the direction of your church, this might include staff, such as cleaners, gardeners, caretakers, administrators, youth workers, musicians, pastoral care assistants and so on.

This might also include people who work for a company which you contract services from. Begin the conversation with whoever is appropriate and determine if you are already a living wage employer: is everyone working for you paid at least £7.45 per hour?

You might like to make a decision about pay scales using a bible study to set the discussion in a wider and deeper theological context; this is not just about money but about valuing human worth. The congregation might also consider using the living wage as one of your themes for worship.

Some ideas for a service can be found here.

Practical tasks

If you are not sure whether you are a Living Wage employer you may need to audit the posts in the parish that are funded locally by asking the following questions...

  • What is the present rate being paid to staff employed by the congregation?
  • How was that rate decided?
  • Is the payment in fact not a wage but an honorarium made to recognise the work but not seen by the recipient as a wage? This would be in the form of an annual amount of no more than a few hundred pounds. If this is the case, it should not form part of the living wage discussions but the congregation might want to think about making a contingency plan for when that person no longer wishes to carry out that role, and a paid person may be needed to fill it. A simple way of finding out whether the role is voluntary or not is to ask the question of the volunteer whether they would be able to continue the work without any payment.
  • In the case of paid posts, how does the wage compare with the Living Wage rate of £7.45 per hour?

The field of the poor may yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice.Proverbs 13:23

If the conclusion is that staff are not being paid the living wage, the General Assembly has asked that parishes put in place a plan that would allow that rate to rise to the living wage by 2015. This phased approach is to recognise that for many congregations on tight budgets, this kind change will take time to plan and implement. A survey of Methodist churches in 2010 found that, of those that were not already paying the living wage, an increase cost to pay all their staff for most Churches would be between £3 to £13 per week.

Options to help achieve the living wage

Review your payments and your budgets

It may be that you can already afford the Living Wage, you have just never asked the question.

Stewardship and fundraising

It may not cost you very much more to pay the living wage, but with very tight budgets it may have to be weighed up against other priorities. However, the General Assembly has agreed that this is a fundamental question about justice and exploitation, and so Churches are encouraged to think creatively about how they can build in sustainable stewardship programmes to help fund their work.

* Reduce hours worked

Can the job be carried out in fewer hours? For example, can a cleaner clean the premises three times a week instead of daily? If it is a shop/after school club, can the hours of opening be changed to lunchtime and after school?

The idea behind changing the hours of work is for the salaried individual to work fewer hours but on a higher rate of the living wage thus keeping at least the same salary level, giving them the opportunity and the time to find other work to help supplement their income.


If the service/club etc. needs to stay open, consider asking volunteers to offer their time in addition to the paid worker to achieve the pay change without reducing the service.

Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan, I will now rise up, says the Lord, I will place them in the safety for which they long.Psalm 12:5

Using an opportunity of a vacancy to rework the rates paid

Is a post about to become vacant? Consider reducing the hours of this vacant post in order to fund the Living Wage for other staff. Or take a decision now to use a new vacancy to make the changes in rates.


Consider whether you have scope to extend supervisory responsibilities across sites or functions, you may find that this releases a vacant post that could fund the Living Wage. For example, if there are two offices, each with a Supervisor, if one post is vacant, you could make the remaining Supervisor responsible for both offices. This individual receives a pay rise (from part of the vacant post) in recognition of extended duties and the remaining funds from the vacant post can be used to implement the living wage.

Phased pay rise

Can you plan a stepped change in hourly rates over a period more quickly than yearly increments or plan increments over three years to 2015 that would get the hourly rate up to the living wage rate; remember that the rate is liable to rise each year to the target in 2015 would be more than the 2012 rate of £7.45 per hour.