Revealed: The employers quietly dropping their London Living Wage status
Big names appear to have had cold feet over the decent wage scheme
Morning — at just £10.42 an hour, or roughly £20,000 a year, the UK’s national minimum wage is practically impossible to live on in London. That’s why many employers have signed up to the London Living Wage, a voluntary scheme to pay staff more to reflect the real cost of living in the capital. While enrolment has grown significantly over the past few years, the Spy’s spotted some high-profile sign-ups that apparently got cold feet — a posh auction house, a major cultural centre and a hip brewer. London’s Living Wage dropouts are after your Sunday roundup below.
Plus: Sadiq Khan piles on the pressure, a bin strike scoop, and weird animal discoveries.
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What we’ve spied
📣 London mayor Sadiq Khan has called for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war. “We need to stop further Israeli and Palestinian suffering and the loss of civilian lives — including children — now,” said Khan in a video statement posted to X on Friday. The mayor joins a growing number of Labour politicians calling on party leader Sir Keir Starmer to shift his position on the conflict, which is currently that there should be a “pause” to allow aid into the Gaza Strip and hostages to get out. It caps off another week of reaction to the conflict across London — another pro-Palestine march in central on Saturday, news that the Tube driver who led a chant on a train has been suspended and continued reports of rising anti-Semitic and Islamaphobic incidents.
👮 When it wasn’t being criticised for its policing of pro-Palestine supporters in London, this week the Met was taking heat from plenty of other angles. Most high profile was the news that two officers have been sacked for gross misconduct after carrying out a stop-and-search of two black athletes, who had said they were racially profiled. The two officers had claimed they smelt cannabis as they searched their car, but a disciplinary hearing that concluded this week found this to be a lie. One of the athletes, British world championships medallist Bianca Williams, gave an emotional interview to the BBC on Thursday where she said: “The sad reality of being a black person in London is no matter what we do, it’s never good enough.” Three other officers were acquitted of gross misconduct over the incident. Sky News has put out an in-depth analysis of dashcam and CCTV footage leading up to the arrest. Since the news broke, a fundraiser for the two sacked officers — Jonathan Clapham and Sam Franks — has now topped £120,000. Elsewhere for the Met: one officer is under criminal investigation after arresting a woman for bus fare evasion in front of her son, while another is under investigation over claims he shared CCTV footage of an alleged raped woman.
🗞 EXCLUSIVE 🗞 Tower Hamlets council blew more than £340,000 on private refuse collectors when its in-house team went on strike last month, information released to the Spy shows. Between September 18 and 26 — the dates of the recent bin strike in the east London borough — the council spent £292,565 on waste contractor P.F. Ahern and £49,000 on contractor Bywaters to deal with the rubbish piling up on streets. “The £341,000 cost to council tax payers could easily have been put to use on essentials to the benefit of residents,” opposition councillor Peter Golds told us in reaction to the figures, which we acquired via a Freedom of Information request. See Spy 01/10/23 for more on the bin strike.
🤡 An update on Spy regular Mizzy, the north London TikTok ‘prankster’ who now finds himself in serious hot water. Mizzy — 19, real name Bacari-Bronze O’Garro — has now been banned from social media and faces possible prison time after a judge found he’d violated an earlier order to not share videos online without people’s consent. That measure had been put in place after Mizzy shot to national notoriety earlier in the year when his ‘prank’ of entering a person’s home in London without permission went viral. In trademark brazen style, the prankster took to social media to repost the BBC article reporting on his social media ban. For more Mizzy, see Spy 25/05/23.
⚰️ Speaking of ill-advised stunts — a London MP hopeful is facing calls to be suspended after his election banner was hung in a graveyard. Photos popped up this week of a banner for Daniel Rodwell, Labour’s candidate for Barking, being put up on gravestones in Barking Abbey, prompting his Conservative rival to write to Sir Keir Starmer asking him to suspend Rodwell for the “deeply shocking and offensive” act. Rodwell, who’s currently leader of Barking and Dagenham council, is seen as a ‘rising star’ in London Labour and is no stranger to national press attention — just a couple of months ago he threatened to evict families who don’t inform on knife crime. Elsewhere in London Labour: the candidate to replace the Hackney mayor who quit after a child porn scandal is being accused of “insulting the electorate” after turning down an invite to a hustings.
🚆 Celebration from some that London’s one-day Travelcard has been saved, but it comes alongside some other dodgier train news this week. First are safety concerns about the introduction of new trains on the Piccadilly line, which is slated for summer 2025. The new trains are very fancy — more carriages, air-conditioning and they’ll be running more frequently — but it’s come to light that their bigger size means platforms on the line will need to be ‘shaved’ to fit them in. That’ll mean a bigger gap for passengers to potentially fall into between the platform and older Piccadilly trains still in service during the phased introduction of the new trains until 2027. The other main train story this week is the shocking reliability of the Elizabeth Line, following performance data from over the summer showing one in six services delayed or cancelled. Sadiq Khan has offered an apology and vowed to improve service. Also, spotted: a new train for the DLR line out in the wild.
🏚️ A lot of focus this week on the Londoners being evicted from their rented homes for no good reason, following the UK government delaying its no-fault eviction ban. New stats from City Hall show that each week almost 300 tenants in the capital are being served Section 21 notices, which allow landlords to evict them without proving the tenant is at fault in any way. It follows the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities announcing an indefinite delay to banning Section 21 notices last week, following “extensive lobbying” from landlords. It also comes in the same week the Office for National Statistics published its annual rental affordability data, which for London now shows people on average spending 35% of their income on rent. Related: apparently buy-to-let landlords have begun to shun London in favour of more lucrative properties in the north of England.
And finally, we leave you with:
The super viral London Underground memory guessing game
The new series of the BBC’s Met documentary that aired this week
A ferret that got rescued from a Tube station
The Shetland ponies found in a Clapham garden
The date — Friday, November 3 — when tickets for London’s NYE fireworks display go on sale
Tickets for the London Jazz Festival next month
A luxury auction house, a major cultural centre and the brewer of hip beers are among the London employers that appear to have quietly left a scheme guaranteeing their staff a wage that reflects the real cost of living in the capital, the Spy can reveal.
Since 2019 more than 200 organisations based in London have disappeared from the list of accredited organisations published by the Living Wage Foundation (LWF), a charity that runs a voluntary scheme in which employers pay a higher minimum wage than they are legally required — known as the London Living Wage. The Spy identified these organisations by comparing the LWF’s current list of accredited employers with a version of the list from April 2019, archived by the Wayback Machine.
One of the missing employers is Sotheby’s, the luxury auction house based in Mayfair that facilitates multimillion pound art sales with global buyers. Just this month Sotheby’s oversaw £45.6m in sales during Freize Week, an annual contemporary art fair in London. In the 2010s Sotheby’s became the focus of an extensive campaign over the pay of its cleaners in London, culminating in the company becoming Living Wage accredited in 2015. But at the time of writing, Sotheby’s no longer appears in search results on the LWF’s accredited employer page.
Also missing is the Royal Society of Arts (RSA), the cultural powerhouse in central London whose former members include Karl Marx, Charles Dickens, and Nelson Mandela. A registered charity, the RSA hosts events for the public as well as its network of fellows. Last month staff at the RSA voted to strike for the first time in the institution’s 270-year history after rejecting management’s offer of an average 2.5% pay rise. Having appeared on the LWF’s 2019 list, the Spy was unable to find the RSA on the LWF’s live site.
The brewer of the popular Camden Hells lager, Camden Town Brewery, and club night ticket platform Resident Advisor (RA) are also well-known London employers that appear to have dropped off the LWF’s accredited list since 2019.
Sotheby’s, the RSA, Camden Town Brewery and RA did not respond to the Spy’s multiple requests for comment as to why they were now missing from the LWF’s website, and failed to confirm if they were still London Living Wage accredited.
Other missing companies that did respond to the Spy stressed that though they had let their London Living Wage membership lapse, they were still in practice paying at least the higher wage to their employees. One, a TfL contractor, has said it has now renewed its membership after being approached for this piece. Some, particularly small employers, explained that they simply did not want to pay the LWF’s accreditation fee or go through the accreditation process. Others insisted their absence from the LWF’s website was an error, and said they had now asked to be put back on.
The Spy’s investigation comes in the same week that the LWF announced its new rates for the coming year — an hourly wage of £13.15 in London, a rise of 10% on the year prior. The LWF publishes an enhanced rate for London alongside a UK rate to reflect the higher costs of living in the capital. Legally, employers in London are only required to pay the national minimum wage, which currently stands at £10.42 and applies uniformly across the UK. Living Wage employers are expected to not only pay employees the LWF’s rates, but regularly sub-contracted staff too. Accredited organisations can include companies, public bodies and charities.
The LWF did not comment on the Spy’s findings and did not confirm or deny whether any of the organisations we identified had lost their Living Wage accreditation. In a statement published on Tuesday announcing the new rates, the charity’s director, Katherine Chapman, said: “As inflation eases, we cannot forget that low paid workers remain at the sharp end of the cost of living crisis. Low paid workers continue to struggle with stubbornly high prices because they spend a larger share of their budget on food and energy.”
London mayor Sadiq Khan is a prominent backer of the London Living Wage, having pledged to make “London a Living Wage City” in his most recent election campaign. He penned an opinion piece in the i newspaper on Wednesday, in which he wrote: “As the cost of living crisis continues to weigh heavily on families, with many enduring real hardships, I’m very pleased to be deliver [sic] a much-needed pay rise for more than 130,000 workers in our city as the London Living Wage increases to £13.15 an hour. This will be a welcome boost for workers and families desperately struggling with the spiralling cost of food, energy and other essentials.”
Sotheby’s absence from the list of Living Wage accredited employers may come as a shock to those who had only recently fought an extensive campaign for better wages at the posh auction house. United Voices of the World (UVW), a union formed mostly of low-paid migrant workers in the service sector, organised protests throughout 2015 to secure the London Living Wage for outsourced staff at Sotheby’s. The union claimed that though Sotheby’s had agreed to pay the London Living Wage in February of that year, by the summer the auction house had effectively reneged on its commitment, after switching cleaning contractors. On July 1, 2015, the union organised a protest outside the auction house while an art sale was going on inside, which led to the suspension of four cleaners, dubbed ‘the Sotheby’s Four’. While protestors claimed they’d been peaceful, Sotheby’s said they “had attempted to assault our clients by shooting water pistols and blocking them from entering the building.” The following months saw further protests at a Sotheby’s car show, a public petition which reached 26,000 signatures, and even mentions of the campaign in Parliament by MPs. By March 2016 the Sotheby’s Four and UVW had claimed victory, saying they’d finally secured the London Living Wage again. Sotheby’s appears on both a November 2015 and the April 2019 list of Living Wage accredited employers found by the Spy. It’s now missing from the current list.
Staff at the Royal Society of Arts may also be surprised by their employer’s disappearance from the LWF’s list, given they are now preparing to strike over pay. At the end of last year RSA employees voted to unionise with the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), acquiring formal recognition on November 30, 2022. They put their unionisation to use last month when they voted overwhelming — 93% — to take strike action. Staff had rejected management’s offer of a flat pay increase of £1,000 — an average 2.5% pay rise — and had instead asked for a £2,800 flat increase. A statement from the RSA in September pointed out that its minimum salary for all the charity’s staff — £25,500 — is “well in excess of the London Living Wage”. But by the Spy’s calculations, the RSA’s figure is now below the new London Living Wage announced this week, which is equivalent to £25,643* per year for a full-time worker. The charity also did not specify in the statement whether its minimum salary applied to contractors, a requirement for London Living Wage employers. The RSA did not respond to the Spy’s attempts to clarify.
Loss of Living Wage accreditation does not necessarily mean an employer has stopped paying the wage, however, as many employers were keen to tell the Spy. One such company was Lyndon Goode Architects (LGA), which let its accreditation lapse after 2019. The firm was recently awarded work by TfL to design buildings being built on the transport body’s land. TfL is part of the Greater London Authority, which is Living Wage accredited. When approached for this piece, LGA said it had kept paying significantly more than the London Living Wage but would now be renewing its accreditation.
An LGA spokesperson said: “We strongly support the London Living Wage initiative and have ensured that all our staff are paid this since our company’s inception. We regrettably were not shown on the London Living Wage website simply due to our accreditation having lapsed, and have now immediately renewed this to ensure we are listed again as soon as possible.”
Some of the 200 missing organisations we identified included charities. One was Lord’s Taverners, one of the leading youth cricket charities in the UK, based at the Lord’s cricket ground near Marylebone. A spokesperson for the charity pointed out they did not “lose” their accreditation — i.e. by failing to meet the LWF’s accreditation criteria — but had instead let its membership expire. They told us: “As an organisation that pays more than the Living Wage to all our employees, we chose not to renew our accreditation. This is part of a wider process that is currently ongoing to ensure that we are using the most appropriate accreditation that is most relevant to our staff and best aligned with our organisation. This may mean that we re-apply to be a Living Wage employer in the future, but we did not lose our accreditation, we chose not to re-apply for the reasons stated.”
Concerns about keeping Living Wage accreditation were also raised by small businesses identified as missing by the Spy. This included Temple of Seitan, a vegan fast food joint with spots in Camden and Hackney. “As a very small business we couldn’t justify paying the fee for the accreditation,” said Patrick O’Shea on behalf of the company, who remembered the fee as roughly £150. “We did raise wages in line with the London Living Wage last year and the intention is to do so again this year.” Likewise, Robert Graham, the director of the London Bicycle Tour Company, which takes visitors through routes in the centre of the city, told us: “London Living Wage accreditation was an unnecessary expense. The London Bicycle Tour Company still uses the London Living Wage to ensure we are not underpaying our employees or contractors. We still use the annual increase as a benchmark percentage wage increase to all of our staff and contractors.”
Low pay continues to be a serious problem in London. Research published by the LWF earlier this year found that 13.6% of employees were paid less than the Living Wage. With 4m payrolled employees in London, that means roughly 550,000 people potentially paid as low as £10.42 an hour, or £20,319 a year. And for the first time in a decade, this share was higher in London than the rest of the UK. The LWF forecasts the share of employees paid below the Living Wage will rise in London next year to nearly one in five.
While the Spy has found more than 200 organisations that appear to have lost London Living Wage accreditation, the overall number of employers participating in the scheme has grown significantly in the past few years. There are now more than 3,600 accredited employers in London, up from roughly 1,000 in 2019. They have until May 2024 to implement the newly announced London Living Wage. Time will tell if they stick it with it — and the Spy will be checking in with them again next year.
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*We calculated £25,643 by multiplying the new hourly London Living Wage, £13.15, by 37.5 to derive weekly earnings, then by 52 to derive annual earnings, as per the methodology in this LWF article.
Edit on 30/10/2023: This article has been amended to specify that LGA pays staff more than — not just at least — the London Living Wage
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