The General Assembly was today due to debate the report of the high-powered Commision on the Purposes of Economic Activity, chaired by businessman Professor Charles Munn, which recommended that all Church of Scotland agencies and congregations be instructed to implement the living wage.
The commission condemned growing inequality, the “corrosive” effect of the bonus culture and called for the living wage – defined as the minimum needed for a worker to provide his or her family with the essentials of life – to be brought in “with all possible speed”.
But the Kirk’s social care arm CrossReach, whose work includes operating around 24 elderly care homes across the country, has made clear it just does not have the money to pay the living wage to all its 2000 staff.
It is understood all staff at Church of Scotland headquarters at 121 George Street are already paid above the living wage, but some cleaners, secretaries and youth workers employed at local level may be on less.
In a separate report being debated today, the Kirk’s church and society council said it would be “an important demonstration of our commitment to justice and poverty eradication” if by 2015 all churches could move towards paying the living wage. But it said: “It is recognised there are barriers to congregations achieving a Living Wage for their employees, not least that resources are scarce during this economic downturn.”
The report said the only way CrossReach could pay all staff the living wage was if the costs were covered by an increase in funding, most of which comes from local authorities.
CrossReach staff are already paid more than the national minimum wage, but have had no cost-of-living rises for the past two years.
Church and society convener the Rev Ian Galloway said the church had been a founder member of the Scottish Living Wage Campaign. But he said: “The difficulty CrossReach has is most of their work is carried out in the context of tendering with local authorities.
“We are planning to work with CrossReach to ensure the Scottish Government and local authorities understand it is necessary to introduce the living wage as a prerequisite for tendering. CrossReach can then make it possible for the Church of Scotland to be completely a living wage employer.”
The special commission, set up in 2010 to explore the ethical and moral questions underlying economic activity, included key figures from banking, business and the trade unions.
Among them were former Royal Bank of Scotland chief economist Jeremy Peat and ex-Labour MP John McFall, former chairman of the Commons Treasury select committee.
As well as backing the living wage, their report proposed a maximum interest rate for all kinds of consumer credit, urged the expansion of credit unions, said there should be more financial education in schools and called for an enhanced tax-free savings scheme.
It argued taxes should be seen as “a social obligation akin to loving one’s neighbour”.
And it warned: “Severe economic inequalities undermine the bonds which hold societies together, and diminish us all.”