Real wages, living proof: why the real Living Wage is about more than just money

This week marks the Living Wage Foundation’s announcement of the new real Living Wage rates for the year ahead.

As part of the charity’s Living Wage Week activities, businesses, MPs and workers from across the UK are coming together to champion the new rates and continue the push for fairer pay.

The real Living Wage — which is calculated on actual living costs, as opposed to the government’s national living wage based on median earnings — is already voluntarily paid by over 4,400 businesses.

But the hard work has only just begun in the fight for better pay. And it’s a fight that’s helping spur genuine change for workers across all sectors.

‘I used to work 14 hours a day just to bring home a decent wage to live on,’ explains Paula Hitchings, cleaning supervisor, who has since joined us here at Aviva where she’s paid the real Living Wage.

‘I was never home and constantly tired after working so many hours. And when you’re stressed, you’re just snapping at little things all the time.

‘That stress affects absolutely everything.’

‘Finding time to do the normal things in life felt impossible.’

Constant financial pressure became an enduring headache for Paula. Far from just working long, hard and unsociable hours to make ends meet, her free time away from work was still consumed by money worries.

‘You’re always thinking about how much you have coming in and how you have to pay this and that,’ she adds.

‘Finding time to do the normal things in life felt impossible.’

Paula joined us nine months ago and currently works across our site in Bristol. We’re delighted to have her on board and as a Principal Partner of the Living Wage Foundation, we pay Paula — along with all our UK employees, including employees of our third party suppliers who work on Aviva sites — the real Living Wage.

Her 14-hour days have been replaced by a 40-hour week, with her hard day’s work now rewarded with a fair day’s pay. The impact on her life has also been far more profound than just a higher rate of compensation — it’s meant the opportunity to enjoy genuine time with her family and as she puts it, live a normal life.

‘I can now go out for meals with my husband Simon and spend more time with my beautiful granddaughter, Aryella. My mum turns 70 this weekend and I’m now able to arrange a little party for her,’ she says.

‘Before, I couldn’t do anything like that. Work-life balance was impossible, but the real Living Wage has now bought real balance into place.’

‘I get up and go to work because I want to — not because I have to.’

The ethos of the real Living Wage is paying a fair salary that’s based on what people need to live, as well as simply being the right thing to do. But as Paula explains, companies of all sizes shouldn’t underestimate the myriad of positive business benefits the real Living Wage brings.

‘I’d say to businesses that aren’t currently paying the real Living Wage to look at the bigger picture,’ she adds.

‘Look at me — I used to be in a job where I’d get up and go because I had to earn money. I wasn’t at a place where I would give 100%.

‘But now, I get up and go to work because I want to — not because I have to. I want to go in and give the best I possibly can to make the company proud.’

A fairer wage is helping instill balance, positivity and productivity into all aspects of Paula’s life. But far from just being a beneficiary of fairer pay, she’s also a passionate campaigner.

‘It’s not just about the wage.’

Paula visited Parliament in October to address MPs and business leaders at a Living Wage Foundation event, sharing her experiences and encouraging the wider business community to adopt the real Living Wage.

‘I was incredibly proud to visit Parliament — it was an experience I never thought I’d have,’ she says.

‘To speak about what the real Living Wage means to me was an absolute pleasure. Even if I can get just one more employer to pay the living wage, it would be worth it.

‘Ultimately, employers will also get so much more — less people leaving and a more motivated workforce. That provides loyalty.

‘It’s not just about the wage.’

The hard work doesn’t stop there. Next up for Paula is a trip closer to home when she addresses local councillors and MPs in Bristol later this month. But there’s a far more challenging appointment to take care of in the meantime — arranging her mum’s 70th celebrations this weekend.

We’re proud to support Paula and committed to paying the real Living Wage. Learn more about Living Wage Week and the Living Wage Foundation here.

Stuart Wright, Property & Facilities Director, Aviva plc and Chair of the Living Wage Foundation Advisory Council