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Church of England embarrassed over living wage

Facade of Canterbury Cathedral

Church of England embarrassed over living wage

Last week, the Bishops of the Church of England released a 56-page letter engaging with political and social issues ahead of the May General Election. One of the issues addressed was that of a Living Wage, an amount calculated annually according to the cost of living in the UK, according to the Living Wage Foundation. In its pastoral letter, the House of Bishops said,

113 This is why the Church of England has backed the concept of the Living Wage – an agreement with employers to ensure that all their staff earn a modest hourly rate that is sufficient for a full time worker to live decently. The Archbishop of York has been at the forefront in arguing for the Living Wage. It represents the basic principle that people are not commodities and that their lives cannot adapt infinitely in response to market pressures. The labour market cannot enable people to live and flourish unless the moral limits of the market are recognised.

But this week, the Sun newspaper broke the news that Church of England institutions were advertising jobs at a rate of pay lower than the current recommended living wage. The BBC took up the story:

The living wage, calculated from the basic cost of UK life, is currently £7.85 an hour outside London.

But the Sun newspaper reports a Church job advertised at £6.50 an hour – something an MP called “astonishing”.

The “Living Wage” is not the same as the legal minimum wage, which is £6.50 an hour for adults over 21.

Yesterday afternoon, the Church of England website posted the following statement:

The Pastoral letter from the House of Bishops was addressed to churches and encouraged them to implement the living wage. The Living Wage Commission, chaired by the Archbishop of York, recognised in its report last year, that a phased implementation may be necessary in some businesses and organisations. It welcomed employers seeking to implement the pay level progressively. What is important is that those who can, do so, as soon as is practically possible.  The vast majority of those employed by or sub-contracted to the Church’s central institutions are already paid at least the Living Wage and all will be by April 2017.

Each of our 12,000 parishes, dioceses and cathedrals is a separate legal entity with trustees and has to act in the light of its own circumstances. As charities churches require time to increase giving levels prior to ensuring delivery of the living wage. We are grateful to the Sun and others for highlighting the sound principles behind the living wage and for enabling us to reiterate our own commitment and hope for it to be paid to all people in work.

It also linked to comments made by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, during a visit to the Diocese of Birmingham:

“It would be great if we were paying the Living Wage everywhere right away. But as the Archbishop of York said in his Living Wage Commission, we’ve got to move towards it. . .”

Learn more about the Living Wage here.

Posted by Rosalind Hughes



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Bro David

At today’s exchange rate that is about US$52,000.

Thanks for clearing up the inaccuracies. Your report is much closer to what I believed about the CoE from friends in the UK with boots on the ground.

Daniel Lamont

I am conscious that this is a US blog and I am writing about UK matters but I would like to comment on John Chilton and J.C. Fisher’s posts and to correct some mis-perceptions of Frankie Andreu. I, of course, only speak for myself. I am no economist but agree with Paul Krugman that paying the living wage is a matter of morality: it is right that people should be paid sufficient to enable them to live decently. However, as a social democrat, I do not believe in unregulated markets. It seems to me that the introduction of the living wage is a means of driving up the minimum wage and increasingly more organisations and public bodies are paying. I would have thought that it was in the self interest of the markets to pay it. If capitalism depends on consumption, surely people need to have enough money to pay for the good produced?

I don’t recognise the picture of the CofE that Frankie Andreu paints. The UK is an old country and has many processes with origins in the past which are nowadays more shadow than substance. this is particularly true of the CofE. The Queen exercises no powers of the CofE except as a rubber stamp and is a figurehead. I do not understand what Frankie means by individual parishes contributing the wealth of the Queen. The Queen’s wealth is not the wealth of the CofE. In no way does the CofE carry out the government’s policies on the instruction of the Government of the day though it always abides by the law of the land. More often than not, the CofE is at odds with government policy and doesn’t go along with it – gay marriage is an example. Bishops are appointed by a Crown Nomination Commission (details here: This consists of fourteen people and the Archbishops, six of whom come from the diocese and thus the local members have considerable say and can effectively veto a nomination. Thus in effect the Prime Minister has to accept the nomination – the second name is a fall-back position should the first decline or an insuperable problem emerges at the last minute. I remain of the view based on my experience on the ground here in England that the CofE is an effective intermediary institution, which is not to say that it doesn’t have failings. What is happening is a gradual de facto disestablishment of the CofE if not a de jure one.

On a matter of accuracy, suffragan bishop earns about £34,000 which is about $61,000. I don’t know where Frankie’s figure of $130,000 comes from.

John Chilton

I would always caution to watch for unintended effects. Even unwittingly, if I am a church that aims to pay the living wage the result will be that the applicant pool will improve relative to the pool I’d have if I offered a job at, say, the minimum wage. The best in the pool will be the ones whose alternative market wage equals the living wage. So what I have achieved with the living wage is exactly nothing, except to displace the person I would have hired at the lower wage.

It wasn’t so long ago that Paul Krugman was making similar criticisms of the living wage. Where I would part ways with Krugman is *if* paying a living wage means the church (in this case) would choose not to hire the most qualified applicant, but the most needy applicant.

“In short, what the living wage is really about is not living standards, or even economics, but morality. Its advocates are basically opposed to the idea that wages are a market price–determined by supply and demand, the same as the price of apples or coal. And it is for that reason, rather than the practical details, that the broader political movement of which the demand for a living wage is the leading edge is ultimately doomed to failure: For the amorality of the market economy is part of its essence, and cannot be legislated away.”

JC Fisher

“to displace the person I would have hired at the lower wage”

But if EVERYONE adopts a living wage (as a minimum wage), then the “displaced” person has the option of a living wage from another employer!

This is the same argument we here whenever the minimum wage is proposed to be raised: “it will hurt the poorest”. Except that’s not what the evidence shows. All wages rise, and those at the bottom get the higher minimum wage. Why shouldn’t that bottom wage be a living wage?

Daniel Lamont

I am writing from England. Before I begin, let me say that I think that the CofE must work towards paying all employees at least the living wage as soon as possible. If I might pick up a couple of points from Frankie Andreu. I think that the CofE is more of an intermediary position that he allows for, especially at the local and parish level. The work with food banks illustrates that. In fact the CofE is not as wealthy as one might think from the Church Commissioners accounts. Primarily, this body pays the salaries of bishops and the minimal cathedral staff of a dean and two canons and clergy pensions. Moreover, this is not a good climate for high returns on investments. It is worth saying that the salary of a diocesan bishop is about £42,000 which is just about twice that of a regular parish priest. Is the differential the same in the USA? It is a federal structure and dioceses have a lot of autonomy. Some dioceses have a lot of money either from endowments or have wealthy members who can contribute handsomely but others not. People must not be misled by the splendours of the great mediaeval cathedrals such as your illustration of Canterbury. I worship at Blackburn Cathedral in the north of England (I a not ordained). We were founded as a diocese in 1926, our cathedral is large parish church, located in a former cotton town and by no stretch of the imagination could we be called a wealthy diocese but I think we do a good job. The picture is not a consistent one throughout England (I use that word advisedly).

I would urge our friends in the USA to read the Bishops’ Pastoral letter itself, or at least the summary, rather than rely on reports in the press. I understand that an advance copy was sent to the Prime Minister out of courtesy and this was leaked to the right wing press before it was actually published. While there are obviously matters one can disagree with, this UK Anglican voter finds a great deal to commend it. Many of those who have commented, including Members of Parliament, haven’t actually read it.

Christopher Arnold

Daniel, Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

Frankie Andreu

Daniel, thank you for this well considered summary of the background to the letter. Indeed, the leaking of the letter was encased in politics. And I agree that it is at least necessary to read the letter to comment on it.
I commend the many churches in England, Anglican and others, that engage in poverty-relief programs. This is a central issue for me in our church as well.
With regard to the “intermediary position” the bishop’s letter suggests, I do not see this as realistic, even at the local level. It fails to take into account the overall structure, and deep weakness, of the Church of England.
The Queen of England holds the title “Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England.” She appoints, taking into account advice from the Prime Minister (the state), the archbishops and bishops. Thus, even considering the “independence” of local parishes (which benefits the wealth of the Queen), the Church of England is in no position to represent the interests of the poor. It is a construct of the government and represents and carries out government policies in the religious sphere.
Further, the Supreme Governor (head) of the Church of England has a personal worth of more than 10 billion (10,000,000,000) dollars. The “Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England” is obscenely wealthy and the fact that people who work for their Supreme Governor are not paid enough to live on is inexcusable and un-Christian (by any definition).
Daniel, I spend a lot of time in the UK in meetings and conferences with my brothers and sisters there, but perhaps I have misunderstood something. I would appreciate your view on this as well.
Also thank you to JC Fischer for here saying something so reasonable and obvious (and even what makes just good sense in economics): pay people not only a living wage but also a respectable wage. This too for the TEC.
Paul Krugman had it wrong. Those who live in a market economy are not doomed to being amoral.
When the life of the “Defender of the Faith and the Supreme Governor” of a church’s life is the extreme opposite of the Founder of this faith, or when a single bishop suffragan is paid more than $130,000 dollar per year alongside free housing, free use of a phone, and an enormous package of benefits, then our behavior in the market economy is immoral, but this is not because the economy is itself amoral.

Bro David

Daniel said that diocesan bishops receive £42,000 annually, which is about US$65,000. Where do you get your US$130,0000 figure for a suffragan bishop.


Frankie Andreu

Quite an interesting discussion it has been among Anglicans, and I am pleased it is being shared here.
I do wonder if the Church of England is in the “intermediary institution” it believes itself to be in this letter. There does appear to be more “self-interest” than the bishops are prepared to concede.
In any event, it is a shame when an institution as rich as the Church of England will not pay all its employees a living wage.

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