Working Families in Poverty

In March 2014, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) published a report entitled Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion in Northern Ireland 2014. Its findings are startling; household incomes, poverty rates and the labour market have all worsened in NI in the last five years.

The report also highlighted the increase in working families living in poverty and in receipt of welfare benefits.

Recent research has shown that households in NI are £200 a year better off than at the start of the economic crisis but only have on average £80pw to spend on non-essential items while elsewhere in the UK the figure is £170pw.

  • Average earnings in NI are between 16-18% lower than in the rest of the UK.
  • The gap between private and public sector pay rates is getting wider in NI
  • NI has a greater proportion of its population living in fuel poverty
  • NI has a much higher proportion of its work force on lower incomes and part time working
  • Food prices have risen over 30% since 2008

The one thing that everyone can agree on in Northern Ireland is that it is getting harder to make ends meet.

So what can be done about those affected by in-work poverty?

Quite a lot actually!

Ark Housing is one of only two companies in NI to be an accredited Living Wage Employer and, more significantly, the only Housing Association in NI to obtain this accreditation. The Living Wage is an hourly rate, set independently and updated annually, based on the cost of living in the UK, and is the minimum rate of pay within Ark Housing.

As a social enterprise and registered charity, it is inexcusable for Housing Associations to pay their employees anything less than the Living Wage Rate (LWR). To do otherwise is to continue the cycle of dependency on welfare benefits and encourage the continuation of the low wage economy.

To those who already pay the LWR, I say thank you, perhaps you will consider getting accreditation and join the campaign to redress the social injustice of working poverty. For those of you who do not pay the LWR, it is now time to rethink your position. The economic and human costs of inaction are unacceptable for a developed and civilised society.

A recent study by the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) found that over two thirds of Housing Associations in GB were paying the majority of their employees at or above the LWR (although only 33 landlords were accredited as LWR Employers, 40 actually claimed to be) Some have claimed that contract pricing and other ‘financial factors’ prevent them from being able to pay the LWR. Pretty feeble excuses for  social businesses when the issue is one of morality and organisational values. If their business models are based on the proliferation of the minimum wage for many of their employees to exist, then clearly they shouldn’t be in business at all!

However, things are getting better and awareness and acceptance of the LWR is increasing. Ark Housing has committed to be the ‘game changer’ for low wages in the voluntary housing sector in NI. As the first accredited LWR Employer, we intend to lead the campaign and encourage the sea change needed within the sector to end the social injustice of the low wage economy.

As Anne Hichey, Chief Executive of Wales & West HA said “If we do nothing, nothing would ever change. So sometimes you have to step out and do the right thing”

© Tony Ruddy 24/05/2014

Appraisals Don’t Work?

​Lucy Adams the former HR Director of the BBC has claimed that staff appraisals don’t work because they “strike fear into the hearts of employees”

One of her reasons for this view was that “manager’s hate doing appraisals”. She is entitled to her opinion but being a ‘former HR Director’ and especially of the failed BBC probably speaks volumes. Of course it is true that there is a potential for the system to generate fear and be demotivating but that’s more to do with either a poor system and process or lack of any real commitment from both staff and management who maybe uncertain of the objectives/benefits or indeed a combination of both.

I believe that a robust appraisal system is worth its weight in gold to individual employees, managers and an organisation. It can help identify strengths and weaknesses, gaps in skills and knowledge, difficulties and problems restricting performance delivery as well as some significant in-house best practices and opportunities for development.
Spending the time developing a very robust and clear system, free from fear and one in which all parties are fully committed will bring significant benefits including organisational growth, development, loyalty, motivated staff and deliver customer excellence. These are a basic business imperative without which an organisation will only wilt and die on its feet (a bit like the BBC of late?)

The key to success is to ensure that there are ‘no surprises’ during the appraisal process. Standards are clear, expectations are known and targets and objectives fully understood and jointly agreed.
Such a view point coming from a senior HR Director leaves little doubt that there were serious failings within the BBC.

Something we may all need to reflect upon in our own organisations if we are to avoid the same impending fate as the BBC!

It’s one lesson we are keen to avoid and is part of the reason why HR Consultants have been appointed to review our Performance Management and Appraisal system this year and I look forward to the findings and recommendations of their review later in the summer.

© Tony Ruddy 09/06/2014

Chief Executive Tony Ruddy Promotes The Living Wage


Tony’s presentation slides. Click here.


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