John Sentamu, who will chair a year-long commission on the feasibility of a “Living Wage”, which campaigners argue should replace the national minimum rate, said that successive governments have offered little more than a “sticking plaster” solution to the crisis.
The archbishop accused firms of forgetting the “basic moral imperative that employees be paid enough to live on”, and called for business, trade unions and government to take part in a “national conversation” about low pay in Britain.
Adoption of the Living Wage, which is currently set at £7.45 an hour outside London and £8.55 in the capital, compared with the current minimum wage of £6.19 for adults and £4.98 for 18 to 20-year-olds, would give millions of people on poor wages hope, the archbishop said.
Writing in a national newspaper, Dr Sentamu attacked successive governments for standing by as company bosses reward themselves with huge pay packages while employees struggle with low wages.
He said: “The holes in millions of pay cheques are being plugged by in-work support to the tune of £4bn a year. But why aren’t those who are profiting from their workers paying up? Why is government having to subsidise businesses which don’t pay their employees enough to live on? These are questions we need to answer and act on – fast. The cost of living is rising, but wages are not.”
Dr Sentamu warned that low pay affected more women than men.