Archbishops must honour real living wage pledge for church school staff, says UNISON

UNISON writes to Church of England and Catholic Church urging them to practice what they preach on fair pay.

Staff in church schools face a bleak Christmas unless archbishops act urgently on pay, says UNISON today (Friday). 

The union has written to the heads of the Church of England and Catholic Church urging them to honour their promises to pay the real living wage to all staff in more than 6,800 church schools in England and Wales.

The letters to the Archbishops of Canterbury, York and Westminster warn that thousands of these employees face “devastating financial hardship this winter” if Churches fail to act on their pledge made ten years ago.  

A UNISON analysis of the Living Wage Foundation’s website suggests fewer than 50 Catholic and Church of England school employers are accredited for paying the real living wage.  

Additional research by the union* shows just over half (55%) of church secondary and primary schools say they are paying the real living wage to their directly employed staff. Only three in ten (30%) were requiring their contractors to pay this rate. 

In the letters, UNISON urges the Archbishops “to practise what you preach and remember that Christmas is about giving to others”.

“It’s in your gift to ensure church school staff receive a wage that’s fair and in accordance with Christian values,” the letters continue. 

“This financial lifeline could make the difference between them feeding their families or facing a bleak new year.”

The Churches signed up in 2012** to the wage boost. Church school staff should now all be getting at least £10.90 an hour (or £11.95 in London) under the current real living wage rates.

Clergy, such as the Bishop of London Sarah Mullally, have spoken publicly about their support for the real living wage for all workers.

The Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Vincent Nichols himself has said that a just wage is the basis for creating a fair economic system.  

UNISON’s letters say low wages could “force staff out of education for better paid jobs elsewhere.” They add: “This would heap yet more pressure on staff who are already struggling to cope.” 

The letters call for all staff working for private contractors delivering services to schools to also receive at least the real living wage. They demand Churches draw up a timetable for their schools to become accredited living wage employers. 

The letters also urge the Churches to ensure private companies contracted by schools give staff full sick pay to ensure they are treated the same as their directly employed colleagues. 

UNISON head of education Mike Short said: “Churches understand the devastating impact the cost-of-living crisis is having on low-paid school staff. But it’s disappointing their supportive words haven’t yet been backed up with action.  

“Many workers are rightly dismayed promises made a decade ago by both Churches have still not been honoured. Church leaders must ensure their schools follow through on this important pledge. 

“At this time of dire hardship, a real living wage boost would provide a much-needed financial lifeline to families living on the edge. Churches do really important work supporting their local communities, but they must make sure their employees receive fair pay.” 

Notes to editors: 
­–*UNISON sent freedom of information requests to 201 Catholic and Church of England secondary and primary schools in England and Wales between 6 April to 7 June 2022. A total of 62 responded and just over half (55%) said they were paying the real living wage to their directly employed staff. Only three in ten (30%) required their contractors to pay this rate.
– ​**In 2012, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales passed a resolution to endorse the real living wage. In the same year, the Church of England General Synod passed a motion to encourage all their institutions in England to pay the real living wage. 
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors. 
– Case study: James Brent, who works at a church school, says: “I have two children, but can’t afford to heat my home. I’ve worked in schools for 20 years but have never seen things as bad as now. I’m thinking about leaving to get a job in a shop. It would pay more and I wouldn’t have the stress.”