ALL housing associations and their subsidiary companies should commit to achieving living wage accreditation or risk losing public subsidy.

That’s the view of Bruce Forbes, director of Angus Housing Association, which has paid the living wage for a number of years.

“As an organisation, we receive public subsidy to help us build homes for rent,” he said. “Any organisation receiving public subsidy should first be able to demonstrate that it has Living Wage Accreditation. Too often nowadays, I hear social businesses, like housing associations, discussing costs in the context of the ‘bottom line’. Far too often, I hear stories about employment practices in our sector that are being driven by a ‘bean counter’ mentality. This both surprises and annoys me.

“If there is any sector which should have a clear vision of the impact of a low-wage economy and an austerity-led welfare regime on the working poor, it is social landlords. We see the effect, at first hand, on our tenants on minimum or lower wages. Families who struggle to deal with the basics of life like paying their rent and feeding their children, simply to boost the profits of their employers. These same employers, of course, then rely on the state to provide healthcare and other services to their workforce.

“If we are to describe ourselves as responsible social landlords, we must surely recognise that paying our own employees properly is, inherently, one of these responsibilities.”

AHA committed to the living wage, including for its cleaning and caretaking staff, immediately after its employer umbrella organisation, Employers in Voluntary Housing (EVH), and the Unite union reached an agreement to promote the living wage to their member employers in 2011.

EVH provides unlimited support to the governing bodies of not-for-profit and voluntary organisations in all aspects of their employer role. It does this as a fully volunteer-led organisation. EVH was formed in 1978 from a small group of community-based housing associations in Glasgow. Today, membership stands at over 150 not-for-profit organisations in all parts of Scotland, and now extends beyond social housing.

One significant plank of support is EVH’s collective bargaining unit, which involves staff members of Unite and which still covers approximately 100 longstanding housing employers and covers around 7000 staff.

“EVH was proud to be an early Living Wage adopter, and those employers within our collective bargaining unit have paid these rates [as a minimum] from April 2010,” said director Eamonn Connelly. “It would be difficult to understand why any social housing organisation would not make such an obvious commitment.”

Whilst not compelled to, many of the remaining 50 employers which stand outside EVH’s core collective bargaining unit have also voluntarily agreed to pay the rates. Most of these are not involved in social housing at all, and are instead drawn from the new breed of recently formed “for good” social enterprises.

The real living wage is currently £8.75 per hour, and is based on the cost of living. It is significantly higher than the UK Government’s “national living wage” rate of £7.50 which applies to over-25s only.

More than 8000 Scottish employers have now signed up for Scottish Living Wage Accreditation and research shows that the wage helps businesses recruit and retain better staff, reduce absenteeism, and encourage higher productivity.