Working to live or struggling to get by? Why the Real Living Wage is important.

Often it has been assumed that it is only families and people in workless households who are living in poverty, however, we now know that many people in work are financially struggling, with wages barely covering basic living costs. As such, many people are working hard for their poverty.

Tackling poverty is at the forefront of the Scottish Government's programme of work, it is also a key driver behind the Government's Out of School Care Draft Framework which is currently open for consultation.

11th - 15th November 2019 is the National Living Wage week in Scotland, and as an accredited real Living Wage Employer, the Scottish Out of School Care Network (SOSCN) would encourage out of school care services to consider paying their staff the real living wage, if not already doing so. When we look at results from our Annual Workforce Survey and Retention and Recruitment surveys, we can see that many professionals in the OSC workforce will be financially struggling.

In this article we shall consider the current real living wage and the benefits of it, as well as average pay in OSC, and what we think needs to happen to make the real living wage available to, and work for, everyone within the sector.

What is the Real Living Wage?

The Real Living Wage in Scotland is currently set at £9.30 per hour for any worker aged 18 or over, this is the same for the whole of the UK apart from London, which is £10.75 per hour. These amounts have been independently calculated by experts as the minimum amount (per hour on full time employment, 37.5 hours per week) required to meet current living costs in the UK. To pay someone the real living wage is not a legal requirement but a voluntary one - the legal minimum set by the UK government is lower.

What is the legal minimum pay per hour?

It varies, as can be seen from the table below:

  • Year
  • 25 and over
  • 21 to 24
  • 18 to 20
  • Under 18
  • Apprentice
  • April 2019
  • £8.21
  • £7.70
  • £6.15
  • £4.35
  • £3.90

[The amount for apprentices is only for those under age 19, or those who are 19 and older and in the first year of their apprenticeship. Confusingly, the rate for 25+ year olds is termed the National Living Wage whereas for younger people it is termed the National Minimum Wage, or rather it recognises that the minimum wage is not a living wage.]

If we compare a full-time job (37.5 hours) with the Government's Living Wage against the Real Living Wage we find someone would earn £16,009.50 against £18,135.00- a difference of £2,125.50.

How do these levels compare with pay in OSC in Scotland?

From our most recent completed workforce survey in 2018 we found the following average pay and pay ranges for workers:

Job Average Pay Pay Range
  • Lead Practitioner
  • £12.78 per hour (£24,921 full-time equivalent)
  • £8 - £21 per hour
  • Practitioner
  • £9.26 per hour (£18,057 full-time equivalent)
  • £6.30 - £15 per hour
  • Support Worker
  • £8.34 per hour (£16,263 full-time equivalent)
  • £4.20 - £11.06 per hour

[It should be remembered that people are probably being paid the legal minimum- the pay range doesn't identify the age of the worker nor does it consider the minimum amount in 2017/2018, which increases on an annual basis.]

It appears that the average pay per hour is above current levels of the Real Living Wage for Lead Practitioners and Practitioners but closer to the government's Living Wage for Support Workers. However, the pay range for each job category shows that there are great differences between the highest and lowest pays reported. It should also be remembered that the majority of OSC workers are not on full-time, or near full-time hours and we shall consider this next.

Staff retention and recruitment

Living Wage Scotland states that by paying staff more there is less absenteeism, greater retention of staff, and increased quality of work, amongst others benefits. For full-time, or nearly full-time employment, this is undoubtedly the case.

SOSCN is currently undertaking a Retention and Recruitment Survey which is looking at the reasons behind staff losses and how easy or difficult it is to recruit new staff. Although the survey is still open to responses, interim findings suggest that many services have lost staff within the past 12 months and the main reasons for this are low pay and lack of hours. Even in services where pay is higher, the number of hours available doesn't provide sufficient pay overall. Many people are having to take additional jobs which may then lead into a main job, or leaving the sector entirely.

These preliminary results are also found in responses to our currently open Workforce Survey. This year we have additionally asked people: what is the best thing about working in OSC? What is the biggest challenge about working in OSC? And If you could change one thing what would it be? Whilst the overwhelming response to the best thing was “working with children”, both the biggest challenge and things to improve include: pay levels, number of hours available, split shifts and general working conditions. Some respondents have said that they enjoy working in OSC and want it to be their career but the pay levels and hours available make it hard to live.

How can OSC salaries be improved?
  1. Ensure that the Real Living Wage is paid as a minimum with an increasing scale for qualifications gained, increasing levels of responsibility and years of service.
  2. Provide more hours for staff. As standard, staff should be paid for hours to undertake development work, paperwork, training and qualifications, and not just 'hands-on' work with the children.
  3. Further to the previous point, using the professional skills and knowledge of staff, OSC services can deliver additional services outwith the operating hours of the out of school care e.g. work with schools to deliver quality play opportunities for children within school premises and school time- this could be paid for through Pupil Equity Funding through schools.
  4. If it is difficult for services to increase pay then we would encourage services to improve the conditions of staff in smaller ways such as paying for SSSC registration, qualifications, social events e.g. Christmas party etc.
Ambition of the ideal versus reality- what are the issues?

Unsurprisingly it mostly comes down to finances- we don't know of any OSC which wouldn't want to provide their staff with higher pay, or more hours. The reality is that they simply do not have the money. Whilst OSC services are nearly wholly reliant to run on the fees that parents pay, it will always be difficult to deliver a service which is affordable to parents and at the same time financially sustainable with good pay and conditions for staff. That said, if services were able to minimise other costs such as premises and qualifications, in theory more money could be directed towards better pay and conditions for staff.

And that is why as an organisation we would like to see all local authorities provide free or low-cost premises; a guaranteed workforce development local budget which not only pays for qualifications and training but also supports transport costs and pay for staff's attendance at college etc, and a national fund which organisations can access to help top-up staff's wages.

Don't forget to have your say- we and the government need to hear from you:

Out of School Care in Scotland - a draft framework for consultation (closes December 6th)

SOSCN Retention and Recruitment Survey (Open to responses from services.)

SOSCN Workforce Survey (Open to responses from individual OSC workers.)

Further information:

Living Wage Scotland

SOSCN is a living wage employer
image for living wage
last updated: 05/11/2019