A Birmingham MP has turned down the offer of a major honour from a Birmingham university - because they don't have official status as a living wage employer.

Liam Byrne, Labour MP for Hodge Hill, was offered the role of Honorary Senior Research Fellow by the University of Birmingham.

It's a title typically offered to people who have made a major contribution to a field of study, but who did it in a profession outside academia.

In a letter to the university, he said he was "absolutely honoured" to be considered but added: "At this stage, however, it is difficult for me to accept".

Mr Byrne said the problem is that the University of Birmingham is not an accredited Living Wage employer.

The living wage is the minimum amount workers need to earn in order to have a reasonable standard of living. The sum is calculated by academics, and at the moment it's £9 an hour.

Every worker directly employed by the University of Birmingham is paid at least this much. But to be formally named a living wage employer, organisations also need to ensure that all their contractors are paying the living wage as a minimum.

Mr Byrne conducted a survey of publicly-funded organisations in Birmingham, including universities, hospitals and schools, and found fewer than one in five have living wage accreditation.

What's more, two thirds of organisation admitted they had no plans to become accredited.

They include the University of Birmingham, as well as Birmingham City University, Aston University and a range of other bodies.

Organisations which are official living wage employers include Birmingham City Council, West Midlands Police and West Midlands Fire Service.

 

Many MPs say paying the living wage is a serious issue, because it would cut poverty.

If every West Midland worker was paid the living wage it would deliver a pay rise to 571,000 people across the region, one in four working people.

And charities say it would cut reliance on food banks. Since 2015, the number of foodbank visits across the West Midlands has increased by 15% to almost 59,000 a year. But national figures show one in six people referred to foodbanks are in work.

Mr Byrne was offered the post of Honorary Senior Research Fellow at Birmingham University's Jubilee Centre for Character and Values, which investigates the role of character and virtue in public and professional life.

The University of Birmingham main campus
The University of Birmingham main campus

In a letter turning down the offer, he said: "Although the University has agreed to pay directly employed staff the real Living Wage, there appears to be an issue with contractors which is stopping the University becoming a Living Wage employer, accredited by the Living Wage Foundation."

He added: "I submitted freedom of information requests to all public spending in bodies in Birmingham.

"I enclose the replies. As you can see, 70% of public spending bodies are either not accredited, and are without plans to become accredited.

"This is indeed a major problem."

And he said: "Around 27% of workers in our region are paid below the real Living Wage of £9/ hour. That is 571,000 workers.

 

"Implementation of the real Living Wage is therefore absolutely essential in tackling poverty in the city."

A University of Birmingham spokesman said: "We have committed to and continue to pay at least the voluntary Living Wage for staff directly employed by the University.

"Working at the University of Birmingham staff also benefit from favourable terms and conditions, including generous annual leave allowances, comprehensive development opportunities, a beautiful campus environment and a stimulating and diverse community."

What is the living wage?

The voluntary living wage which Liam Byrne and other MPs support should not be confused with the “national living wage”, which was introduced by former Chancellor George Osborne in 2015.

The voluntary living wage is independent of the Government and comes to £9-an-hour in most parts of the UK including the Midlands, and £10.55-an-hour in London.

This is the minimum amount people need to live on, according to academics.

It applies to any worker aged 18 or more,

However, employers are under no legal obligation to pay it.

The Government’s national living wage increases the minimum wage by 51p for people aged over 25.

It comes to £8.21 an hour. And it’s compulsory, with employers who pay less to eligible workers liable for legal action.

For workers aged between 18 and 24, the minimum wage is £7,70 an hour.

The living wage in figures

£7.70 p/h

Minimum wage

£8.21 p/h

Legal living wage

£9 p/h

Voluntary living wage

https://www.livingwage.org.uk/what-real-living-wage