Glenrothes (Living Wage Town Campaign)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 3rd December 2019.

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Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-18826, in the name of Jenny Gilruth, on making Glenrothes a living wage town. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the launch of the “Making Glenrothes a Living Wage Town” campaign; understands that Glenrothes is the first UK town to be recognised for its living wage ambitions; acknowledges that the campaign comes as part of Living Wage Scotland’s “Making Living Wage Places” scheme where local businesses and employers are encouraged to pay employees the real living wage and become accredited as Living Wage Employers; commends the 64 Fife employers that have already voluntarily committed to ensuring that all of their staff earn a real living wage; considers that the enactment of a guaranteed living wage across Glenrothes would make unprecedented positive impacts on the local community, and wishes all towns across Scotland the best of luck in becoming Living Wage Towns in the future.

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

The first new town with its own town artist, the home of the first female Presiding Officer and now the United Kingdom’s first living wage town—Glenrothes is responsible for many firsts. This summer, I was delighted to attend the launch of the town’s campaign to become the first town to be recognised for its living wage ambitions. The campaign has been led locally by Fife Council, working in partnership with Living Wage Scotland’s making living wage places scheme.

On that note, I welcome Tom Kane from Fife Council and Lynn Anderson from Living Wage Scotland, who are sitting in the public gallery for today’s debate.

Paid work was a key theme of the fairer Fife commission’s report in 2015. More recently, Fife Council’s local outcome improvement plan has identified challenges for Mid Fife. It stated that:

“It has some of the poorest outcomes in Scotland in areas like jobs, health and deprivation. The area is generally doing less well than we would expect based upon the make-up of its population. This is partly due to poor connections with the rest of Fife and Scotland”.

Therefore, ensuring that the living wage is paid in my constituency is a vital opportunity to make a difference to challenging in-work poverty. Last year, Citizens Advice Scotland commissioned a report on food affordability, access and availability. The report found that 40 per cent of respondents in employment had worried about food running out before there was money to buy more. More than one third of respondents in employment could not afford to eat balanced meals, and more than one quarter of respondents in employment had cut down the size of meals, or had skipped meals, because there was not enough money for the food that they needed. Those are people in work who are going hungry because they cannot afford to eat properly or to feed their families—in 2019. Paying a decent wage across the board has to be part of the answer to that problem.

According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2018, 19.4 per cent of employees in Glenrothes were not paid the living wage rate of £9.30 per hour or more. In 2019, that figure has reduced by 2.5 per cent, which is welcome news.

We know that the living wage is of as much benefit to employers as it is to employees. Research from accredited employers has shown a 25 per cent decrease in absenteeism, and 80 per cent of employers believe that the living wage has enhanced the quality of the work of their staff. Businesses throughout Glenrothes are already benefiting from being part of the scheme.

The following are views of business owners in the town. Brent Burnett, who owns the Glenwood Salon, said:

“I pay my staff the Living Wage because they deserve it and I want to treat them well. I feel strongly about my local community, with both my customers and staff living locally. I feel the business is firmly rooted here in Glenwood. By being accredited by Living Wage Scotland I not only benefit the staff, but the whole community. If I have happy staff I know I will have happy customers.”

Gordon Slight, managing director of Landfall Scaffolding, agreed. He said:

“We are a family business and have always believed that being fair to people means they will be fair in return. We place a massive emphasis on the quality of service our staff give to our customers so it’s important that their work is fairly rewarded. Living Wage accreditation demonstrates our commitment to values of fairness and helps us attract good young people to train within our business.”

Janice Gourlay, who is a founding member and chairperson of Kingdom Community Bank, said:

“I am delighted that we’re able to demonstrate our commitment to paying a real living wage and becoming part of this growing movement. We’re also the first of the smaller, local businesses in the Kingdom Shopping Centre to become accredited. We hope other businesses will join us in committing to pay their staff a decent level of pay and help make Glenrothes a Living Wage Town.”

Paying the living wage is also important for workers. Because it is set according to the basic cost of living, it affords people greater opportunity to provide for themselves and their families. Paying a living wage can give workers more time to spend with their friends and loved ones, because they do not have to worry to the same extent about making ends meet. Indeed, 75 per cent of employees have reported increases in work quality as a result of receiving the living wage, because they feel valued.

The impact of the policy in a town such as Glenrothes cannot be overestimated. Like any new town, Glenrothes faces its challenges. According to the End Child Poverty campaign, the Glenrothes constituency has the highest rate of child poverty in Fife, at 29.6 per cent. Paying the living wage to families in my constituency is crucial, therefore, because it can help to lift people out of poverty.

On Friday, I visited Auchmuty and Dovecot Tenants and Residents Association to help to launch its Christmas appeal. The campaign started last year because of one family who needed help; 150 families later, ADTRA realised that it could not be just a one-off. This year, the Auchmuty group is asking for donations of children’s toys, clothing, toiletries and food in order to provide a Christmas for families who are suffering hardship. Poverty blights the lives of many of my constituents, but that need not be so. According to the United Nations,

“poverty eradication is only possible through stable and well-paid jobs.”

That is why the living wage is key.

Across Glenrothes, 64 businesses are now signed up to be living wage accredited. Fife Council is offering to pay the first year of the accreditation fee that is involved in becoming a living wage employer. Although the amount depends on the size of the business, the total can be up to £120 per employer, so that is significant investment from the local authority to incentivise better pay in the area.

Accreditation is a simple and straightforward process. An online licence is provided to an employer, which needs only to pay the real living wage to directly employed staff who are over the age of 18. As a living wage employer, I wrote to all businesses in my constituency, back in September 2017, to encourage them to sign up to the scheme. With the help of Fife Council locally, more organisations are understanding the benefits of paying the living wage to their employees.

Fife Council has been supported in its work by the Scottish Government, which funds Living Wage Scotland, which was established back in 2014 with the aim of increasing the number of employers in Scotland who are recognised for paying their staff the living wage. The local partnership approach is already paying dividends, as the reduction in the number of people who are paid less than the living wage shows.

The living wage is not just about paying people properly; it is about society acknowledging the structural inequalities that low pay creates. The cycle of poverty is not a new phenomenon, but we are not living in Dickensian times. Just having a job does not protect people from poverty. From the work of the Auchmuty and Dovecot Tenants and Residents Association to child poverty statistics in my constituency, I know the cost of in-work poverty to the people whom I represent. It is human and it is heartbreaking, but we can do something about it.

I am absolutely delighted that Fife Council is leading the way on the groundbreaking initiative to make Glenrothes the UK’s first living wage town. I encourage any business in the Glenrothes area that is considering signing up to think about the positives that doing so might bring in improving people’s work and their lives.

I will end with the words of a fellow Fifer—one Adam Smith—who, 243 years ago, in “The Wealth of Nations”, wrote:

“A man must always live by his work, and his wages must at least be sufficient to maintain him. They must even upon most occasions be somewhat more; otherwise it would be impossible for him to bring up a family, and the race of such workmen could not last beyond the first generation.”

Photo of Jamie Halcro Johnston Jamie Halcro Johnston Conservative

I congratulate Jenny Gilruth on securing the debate. As my party’s spokesperson on jobs and employability, I welcome Glenrothes moving towards becoming the country’s first living wage town. That is a positive step, with much of the effort being led by the local action group, which represents the public, private and third sectors.

Employment continues to remain at record levels, with real wages growing. That wage growth has become solidified in our economy, which should be welcomed. However, low pay remains a significant issue that we should be united in tackling. Voluntary action is certainly a significant part of driving change but, if we are to build a sustainable high-wage economy, it is vital that further work be undertaken to boost productivity. That must be done across sectors, from the largest to the smallest employers.

The Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee, on which I sit, recently held an inquiry into the construction industry. As well as many significant employers, a number of small and medium-sized enterprises are included in the sector. It is important, particularly for those at the smaller end of the business spectrum, that we find ways to make increased pay sustainable and affordable. Productivity must work through supply chains.

Public sector action has been crucial. Increases in the UK national minimum wage and the creation of a national living wage have given millions of the lowest paid in our society a wage increase that can be worth almost £3,000 a year, and that will continue to grow in coming years. The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has recognised that the Conservatives’ policy proposals will see our minimum wage levels rise to be among the highest levels in the developed world. That has been accompanied by the changes to the personal allowance, which have insured that no one who makes less than £12,500 a year pays any income tax at all on their earnings.

Requiring compulsory pay increases from employers must be done in a measured way. The high levels of employment that benefit so many should not be put in jeopardy. We have outlined our position that the national living wage not only will rise to two thirds of average earnings but, for the first time, will extend to anyone over the age of 21.

As has been recognised since the introduction of the national minimum wage, particular attention must be paid to young people, especially those in formal training. We have seen that that age group can be among the most vulnerable to economic change. That is why it is positive that the UK Government has abolished employers’ national insurance contributions for under-21s and for apprentices under 25.

If fairness at work is to be meaningful, we should also look at the conditions of people’s employment. The proposals of the Taylor review, which focused on the rise of the gig economy, have been an important part of following the pace of change in our economy and ensuring that dignity and respect are at the heart of the workplace, but Government should go further, and the standards that are expected in employment should level up to match the best global examples.

As I have mentioned, over recent years, real wages have grown across our society, while positive employment levels have been maintained. I am proud of that record, and it must continue, but it is not an achievement that has happened by accident. We must recognise the drivers of wage growth and the importance of building a sustainable high-wage economy. Voluntary action and work with employers certainly remain a key part of that process. In promoting the living wage initiative in Glenrothes, Living Wage Scotland and the local partner organisations have done—and continue to do—excellent work locally, and it is right that they are commended here today.

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

I, too, thank Jenny Gilruth for bringing the debate to the chamber. It was fantastic to hear of the achievements in Glenrothes, and I congratulate all those who are helping Glenrothes on its journey to becoming a living wage town.

Dundee has also been recognised for the work that it has been doing to become a living wage city. Back in May, an alliance of prominent employers in Dundee launched the city’s action plan, in which they set out how they would work together on making Dundee a living wage city, in partnership with Living Wage Scotland. Dundee became the first city to adopt a new, place-based approach to driving uptake of the real living wage by local businesses. The alliance includes major local employers such as Dundee City Council, Dundee Voluntary Action, Dundee and Angus College, Xplore Dundee, D C Thomson Media, and Dundee and Angus Chamber of Commerce.

At the launch of the action plan, more than 50 Dundee employers had already voluntarily committed to ensuring that all their staff, and subcontracted staff, received a real living wage of £9 per hour, which is significantly higher than the minimum wage.

D C Thomson Media in particular is to be congratulated on making the decision, more than five years ago, to pay all its direct employees the real living wage; on extending it to include all its group companies and all agency staff who regularly work in its offices; and on signing up as an accredited living wage employer in 2017.

I echo the sentiments of Ellis Watson, executive chairman of D C Thomson Media and executive chair of Tay Cities Enterprise Executive, who pointed to the fact that, in these times of economic uncertainty, it is heartening to see Dundee taking the lead in tackling low pay and the inequality that it creates. I also echo the sentiments of Clare Goff, living wage places project manager at the Living Wage Foundation, who noted that major employers in Dundee are working together to improve the lives of citizens and boost the local economy by making a real living wage the norm and using their power and influence to spread living wage accreditation through their local area and across Scotland.

Of course, much still needs to be done. Dundee has more than its fair share of people who are struggling against poverty, benefit cuts are biting deep and people’s wages cannot seem to keep up with their bills and the cost of living. The Dundee fairness commission made a number of recommendations, which are worthy of a members’ business debate in their own right, but it also acknowledged how important the living wage is in helping to lift people out of poverty. It heard from many people on low incomes, many of whom were working but were trapped on low pay.

The real living wage can make a huge difference to such people and, as the leader of Dundee City Council, Councillor John Alexander, acknowledged, local authorities can be powerful advocates for the real living wage campaign. By trying to be model employers and paying the real living wage, they can encourage better rates of pay across public, private and voluntary sector employers. As accredited living wage employers, they are in a strong position to use their procurement activity to create and support more better-paid jobs in the local economy through their contractors and their extended supply chains.

In last month’s living wage week, the Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills announced an increase in the living wage to £9.30, and many new businesses signed up as living wage employers, including the V&A Dundee. At the living wage awards ceremony, this year’s outstanding leadership award went to the Dundee living wage action group. As cities and as a nation, we are going from strength to strength in promoting a living wage to help thousands of families out of poverty, but let us redouble our efforts to ensure that all employers become living wage employers. As a living wage employer, I encourage others to do the same.

Photo of Claire Baker Claire Baker Labour

I congratulate Jenny Gilruth on securing time for the debate. It is a great opportunity to highlight the fantastic work going on in her constituency of Glenrothes and in the Mid Scotland and Fife region that I represent. As Jenny Gilruth highlighted, the launch event took place earlier this year and it is very much to be applauded that Glenrothes is the first town in the UK to be recognised for its living wage ambitions. The launch was a positive event that affirmed the importance of the real living wage and the benefits that it brings, not just for employees, by increasing their income, but for employers.

I give credit to the employers and businesses that are members of the Glenrothes action group. The partnership approach has been important in establishing Glenrothes as a living wage town and the involvement of Fife Council—the largest living wage employer in Fife—Living Wage Scotland, Fife College and Fife Voluntary Action, alongside businesses across Fife, has made the ambition a reality.

Although there are 64 registered living wage employers in Fife, as Jenny Gilruth said, it is important to raise the profile of the campaign and to encourage employers who meet the criteria to register and promote their involvement. It is fantastic to hear the testimony from the Glenwood hairdressing salon and Landfall Scaffolding about their journey to becoming living wage employers. They provide valuable examples of how it is possible to pay decent wages in any profession.

Insecure work has become a feature of our economy as people are forced on to zero-hours contracts or to operate as self-employed when they are effectively working for an employer. Along with precarious work there is a culture of low wages. When the minimum wage was introduced in 1998, in the face of opposition from big business, it lifted an estimated 1.9 million people onto a salary that brought an end to poverty wages. However, it is more than 20 years since the minimum wage was introduced and, as the cost of living increases and wages fall behind, the living wage campaign has been tenacious in arguing for an hourly rate that provides people with a proper reward for their labour.

Many people who are in low-paid jobs are not in a unionised workplace. They can feel that they are without a voice or leverage in their employment. The living wage campaign is a progressive campaign that is people driven, has cross-party support and is a movement of independent businesses, organisations and communities. It is an empowering campaign that seeks to build consensus. It recognises that the minimum wage is not sufficient to live on—it is the absolute minimum that anyone should be paid—and that it should not be the starting point for employers.

Some 470,000 people in Scotland do not earn the real living wage, and 182,000 children in Scotland live in poverty despite having one person in their household in work. Low wages are a cruel trap that people can get caught in. They are working, often having to meet the expenses of travelling to work and finding support for their caring responsibilities, having to pay their bills and often raising a family, but the wages that they receive mean that they cannot make ends meet.

Too many people across the UK face in-work poverty. Kirkcaldy food bank is struggling to survive because of the demand on its services. It reports that although benefit delay is a driver for its services, other people facing financial hardship, many of them in employment but unable to cope with unexpected bills or just unable to make ends meet, often need to use a food bank, too. Central to the living wage campaign is ensuring that people have enough money for a decent standard of living. It recognises that if someone goes out to work they are contributing to society and to their community and they deserve to be properly rewarded.

Although the living wage campaign is tackling an injustice in our society, it is also a celebratory campaign that recognises the positive effort of employers who join the campaign and highlights the benefits that it brings them. Businesses that pay the living wage report that they have lower staff turnover, fewer absences and a more committed workforce. Employers who pay the living wage are really important to the campaign, proving that it is possible to pay a decent wage and run a business and they provide really good peer examples.

Following a sleight of hand from the Government, the living wage has become more accurately known as the real living wage. I believe that a future Government should raise the minimum wage and the national living wage so that it matches the real living wage, which is calculated from the cost of living. It is what a working person should be entitled to. Until then, campaigners will continue to put forward a strong case for an increase in living standards to give everyone pride in their work and a stake in their workplace. I look forward to the progress in Glenrothes as it establishes itself as a living wage town, at the forefront of improving life for people in the town, supporting ethical business decisions and growing a fair economy.

Photo of Rona Mackay Rona Mackay Scottish National Party

I am pleased to take part in this debate, and I thank my colleague Jenny Gilruth for bringing it to the chamber. I also congratulate Glenrothes on becoming the first town to be recognised as a living wage town, and my colleague Shona Robison’s constituency, Dundee, on being the first city in the UK to be recognised as a living wage city.

Everyone should be paid at least the living wage. It should be the absolute minimum, as Claire Baker said. Employees are the most valuable asset that a business can have—without them there would be no business—so it defeats me why some employers do not see the value of paying at least the living wage. It is in their interest and the employees’ interest, and it is a matter of common decency. If businesses do not value their workers, they will not gain respect and tap into the full potential of their employees.

Last year I led a members’ business debate on unpaid work trials, to complement a member’s bill that my colleague Stewart McDonald was introducing in Westminster. Unpaid work trials often exploit young people in every way possible, and the practice is widely abused by unscrupulous employers. During my speech, I said:

“This is about the shameless exploitation of people for free labour and, as we know, the shifts are often used to cover staff shortages and save money. However, we should recognise that many responsible employers already pay their trial shift workers and that should be applauded.”—[

Official Report

, 23 January 2018; c 79.]

At that point, my colleague Neil Findlay MSP intervened and said something along the lines of “Why should they be applauded? Shouldn’t all employers be doing that anyway?” He was absolutely right. All employers should be doing that, and the same principle applies for the living wage: it should not be in question.

I recognise that some small businesses might have difficulty in paying it, but they should take all the benefits that the Scottish Government offers, such as rates exclusion, the small business bonus scheme and all the related grants that are available.

In East Dunbartonshire, where my constituency of Strathkelvin and Bearsden is, 74 per cent of employees earn the living wage or above. The national statistical average for Scotland is 81 per cent. However, 85 per cent of people who live in East Dunbartonshire—even if they work elsewhere—earn above the living wage. Those statistics are fair, but they could be improved upon.

In October, the Carnegie UK Trust launched the living wage toolkit to support local employers, communities and people to work together to extend the living wage to more workers and lift more people out of low pay. Low pay that is insufficient to live on is what we are talking about. Low pay leads to poverty and debt in far too many households. The “working poor” is a deplorable phrase that we need to stop having to use.

Too many children are being brought up in poverty and are not getting the best start in life. Too many people are being forced to go to food banks just to get through the week. We should encourage all employers in our constituencies to pay the living wage, and we should get the conversation going and raise the living standards of everyone throughout Scotland.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

As another accredited living wage employer, I thank Jenny Gilruth for bringing this members’ business debate to the chamber. I am delighted that Glenrothes is the UK’s first accredited living wage town. We all know that a real living wage is essential if we are to ensure that everyone has the basic necessities that they require to maintain a decent standard of living. The solution to the brutal austerity that our communities have suffered must begin by ensuring that everyone has access to fair work and fair pay, and by bringing an end to in-work poverty.

The Citizens Advice Scotland report “Bringing food to the table” found that, as Jenny Gilruth highlighted, poverty exists in many different forms in our communities. According to the report, 40 per cent of working people in Fife are worried about food running out before there is money to buy more. Alongside food poverty, we see fuel poverty, and people struggling to pay bills. We also see transport poverty. Jenny talked about transport isolation, and disconnected communities that face expensive public transport. The isolation has a particular impact on young people who cannot afford access to a car. No one in a country as wealthy as ours should go hungry or find themselves unable to meet any of their basic needs.

Glenrothes has proved that a living wage is possible everywhere in Scotland. The employment rate in Glenrothes currently sits at 71 per cent, which is lower than the Fife rate of 76 per cent and the Scotland rate of 75 per cent.

We know for a fact that increasing wages boosts productivity, retention, industry and our local economies. Research by the Smith Institute found that implementing a living wage would result in a boost of over £1 billion a year for UK city economies. One of the key suggestions in that study was to implement living wage initiatives in cities across the whole of the UK. It is great to see Glenrothes leading the charge.

I had hoped that Stirling could be next, although I welcome Shona Robison’s contribution and hearing about how much progress Dundee has made in that regard. I had hoped that Stirling could move on the issue because Stirling Council was among the first councils to implement the living wage way back in April 2012, and it became an accredited living wage employer in 2015.

Although millions of pounds are being pumped into local economies through the Scottish city deals, it is essential that cities support their local economies and workers by developing the uptake of the real living wage. Anchor institutions such as councils have a responsibility. When they move on the living wage, they have a responsibility to follow through on their leadership, working in partnership with the voluntary sector and the public sector, so that other employers can be influenced. A living wage not only increases income for people who get a wage rise; it supports the local economy and contributes to council budgets through taxation.

I am delighted to commend the many businesses in Glenrothes that already pay a living wage and the champions who will continue to ensure that Glenrothes and every city and town throughout Scotland become places in which everyone gets a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

Photo of Jamie Hepburn Jamie Hepburn Scottish National Party

I join other members in thanking Jenny Gilruth for bringing forward the debate, and I thank other members for their contributions. I declare that I am an accredited living wage employer.

I also join Jenny Gilruth in congratulating Glenrothes on becoming the first town not just in Scotland but in the entire UK to be awarded recognition for its plan to become a living wage town. That does not happen by itself, of course. I thank the living wage action group in Glenrothes for the activity that it is taking forward. I thank Fife Council, Fife Voluntary Action, Fife College, Landfall Scaffolding and Glenwood Salon for coming together to create an action group and drive forward their action plan to triple the number of accredited employers in Glenrothes over the first year from the baseline of 11 in August this year.

We have seen good progress in that regard. There are now 18 accredited employers in Glenrothes, out of more than 60 accredited employers in Fife and more than 1,600 across Scotland. That is a great expansion in a very short period of time, and all credit is due to the action group and the activity that it is taking forward in Glenrothes.

I join Shona Robison in acknowledging the success of Dundee in becoming the first city in the UK—again, not just in Scotland—to adopt a new place-based approach to driving uptake of the real living wage by local businesses. I have visited Dundee on a number of occasions to see the work that is being done there. It is making significant progress.

Through those measures, we are showing that Scotland is trying to taking the lead on the crucial aim of creating a fair work nation and tackling poverty.

Jamie Halcro Johnston talked about the UK Government’s approach to the minimum wage, which he sought to defend. Members may expect me to say this, but I do not think that that approach goes far enough. When the Living Wage Foundation objectively assesses that the minimum requirements for an income to be regarded as a living wage are not met by the statutory minimum wage, the UK Government’s approach is not good enough. We do not, of course, have the statutory powers to legislate to do something different, but we have acted. We work in concert with Living Wage Scotland, and we seek to make a difference.

Photo of Jamie Halcro Johnston Jamie Halcro Johnston Conservative

Does the minister welcome the impact that the national living wage has had on those it is provided for? Does he also welcome the increase in the income threshold? Does he accept that things such as council tax increases owing to the pressure that is being put on local government also have an impact on those who earn low wages?

Photo of Jamie Hepburn Jamie Hepburn Scottish National Party

I welcome any measure that seeks to increase the income of those at the lower end of the income scale. I was going to come on to this point, but I will make it now. When we still see a situation in which the majority of those in relative poverty—both adults and children—are in working households, we can all conclude that the statutory approach to these matters that has been taken by the UK Government does not go far enough.

That is not just my perspective; I think that it is shared widely here—perhaps not on the Conservative benches but in most of the rest of the chamber.

Initiatives here in Scotland, such as the plan for Glenrothes to become a living wage town, are necessary. I believe that the creation of living wage places can be a huge catalyst for change and can drive the agenda forward. It can ensure that more employers take up the cudgels and become accredited living wage employers. We are seeing that in Glenrothes, and we have seen it in Dundee as well. I want to make it clear—to Mr Ruskell in particular—that those will not be the only living wage places that we will support the creation of in Scotland. I will be very happy, and Living Wage Scotland will be more than happy, to work with organisations to ensure that Stirling can join Dundee and Glenrothes very soon.

The creation of living wage places is only one small part of the Government’s activities. We have committed to making Scotland a living wage nation. That involves a variety of activities, the creation of living wage places among them. We are ensuring that through the funding that we provide to Living Wage Scotland. We have seen great progress in meeting the target that we set it, which was to have 1,000 accredited living wage employers in Scotland. We are now way past that: we have 1,600 accredited living wage employers. On a proportionate basis, that is five times the level of accredited employers across the UK as a whole.

We know that that does not go far enough, and we are now moving into a new phase of working with Living Wage Scotland to focus on the lowest-paid sectors. That will ensure that we are not just driving up the number of accredited living wage employers, important though that is, but making the fundamental difference of ensuring that more people are paid the real living wage.

In that regard, as Shona Robison mentioned, I was delighted to take part in living wage week recently and to announce the new real living wage rate of £9.30 per hour, which will make a huge difference to those who are paid it. We might think that the difference between the rates for the statutory minimum wage and the voluntary real living wage is small. However, I have spoken to many people who appreciate receiving it. I was struck by an example that I encountered in the Borders, where I spoke to a woman who had benefited from her income being increased to the level of the real living wage and who was then able to take her family on their first ever holiday. That is a practical example of the difference that the extra amount can make. I add that great work is taking place in the Borders to ensure that it will soon become a real living wage place.

The real living wage’s benefits for those who earn it are very clear but, as other members have mentioned, it also produces clear benefits for employers, through retaining skilled staff, reducing absenteeism, increasing staff morale and encouraging high levels of productivity. As Rona Mackay said, it is in employers’ own interests to pay the real living wage.

The Scottish Government will continue to work with Living Wage Scotland to ensure that we realise our ambition that, in the future, many more people in Scotland will be paid at least the real living wage.