The Living Wage research project

By Kirin Bhadesha, Catalyst Team Member

Since 2018, two Catalyst team members get the opportunity to work for a week on the Brighton & Hove Living Wage Campaign supported by Brighton Chamber. This year, Arthur and I got the chance to support an audit of Brighton Living Wage employers as part of the campaign.

The Catalyst Team is a group of University of Sussex graduates and placement students who deliver various business-related projects, working for a variety of industries. Our current team comes from a range of disciplines, such as Music, Chemistry, Psychology and Climate Change, Development and Policy. You can find out more about the team here. The Catalyst team also benefits from supervision by a skilled senior management team at the Sussex Innovation Centre. Essentially, we offer thriving, innovative companies a flexible and risk-free way to tackle their ‘to-do lists’. They offer us the opportunity to get a taste of a variety of businesses, helping us to carve out a path for our career.

The Living Wage is calculated according to the basic cost of living in the UK and is the amount that allows a person to live, rather than just survive. It is an informal benchmark which is not legally enforceable, unlike the Minimum Wage. Generally, the Living Wage is termed as the ‘real’ Living Wage, as it is more than the Minimum Wage, allowing for a decent standard of living. We are massive advocates of the Living Wage as it’s not only the right thing to do for your employees, but also benefits the business itself. If you’re paying employees the living wage, they’re much more likely to feel valued and more motivated! Let’s be honest, the cost of living is only increasing so by paying the Living Wage you are helping your employees live easier lives. Research has also shown that 90% of consumers believe that pay should reflect living costs and 86% of businesses say it has improved their reputation!

 Our research focused on three key themes:

  1. Increasing local awareness of the Living Wage campaign.   
  2. Encouraging businesses to sign up.
  3. Discovering what factors prevent businesses from paying the Living Wage.

We targeted five sectors: Catering/Hospitality, Retail, Care, Leisure, Digital. We had around 2 days to create our database of contacts and spent the rest of the time calling and emailing employers in Brighton and Hove. In total, we spoke to 177 companies across the sectors! Many companies were more than willing to speak to us about the campaign and their stance on it whilst some were not. Overall, the conversations proved to be insightful and interesting, giving a better understanding of why businesses could/couldn’t pay the Living Wage.

It was very interesting to hear how some businesses weren’t even aware of the Living Wage as many only thought about the Minimum Wage when we asked. In this case, we increased awareness of the Living Wage locally by shedding light on the fact that being paid Minimum Wage doesn’t necessarily mean it’s enough to live on. When we explained the Living Wage, many businesses were supportive of the campaign as a concept, which is difficult to argue against.

The Digital sector was generally the most supportive of the campaign and was willing to sign up when it was applicable. It was great to hear how they wanted their employees to feel valued. In most cases, they were paying more than the Living Wage but didn’t realise there was a local campaign!

It was unfortunate to learn that the overall Hospitality sector in the local area was struggling as there’s uncertainty over supply chains due to Brexit. Although, many businesses did emphasise that the option of service charge bumped up wages. We also spoke to one member of staff originally from Australia, where the system is very different; she emphasised that wages in Australia were in-line with living costs and there was no differentiation between Living Wage and the Minimum Wage. So naturally, she was shocked by the UK system. This revelation made us realise even more how important and significant this campaign is to our society.

Overall, it was a thought-provoking and insightful week for Arthur and me. It was great to connect with some local businesses even if it was for a brief chat!

If you want to learn more about the Brighton & Hove Living Wage Campaign, or if your business is a Living Wage employer but is yet to sign up to the local campaign, then click here to do so!