It will have escaped no-one's notice that the pay of 'bosses and bankers' has attracted some attention recently. Politicians from across the spectrum have queued up to attack the 'undeserving rich'. However, there is a chance to capture the hearts and minds of large parts of the electorate by also focusing on wider pay inequality. Labour Students' Living Wage campaign is already making good progress in this area, and there are opportunities offered by other 'fair-pay' campaigns.

Big bonuses at RBS were a major theme of Prime Ministers' Questions on 1st February, but one MP (Labour's Mike Gapes) also asked David Cameron why the 82% taxpayer-owned bank, with its “big bucks and bonuses for banksters” has “not signed up to pay the living wage”.  The Prime Minister's answer – which mentioned bonuses but not the Living Wage – was disappointing but not surprising:  there is a widespread perception in Westminster that the public want to bash the bankers but are not too concerned about fair pay further down the pay scale. The evidence, though, calls this perception into question:

According to focus group research carried out by the IPPR, there is “a strong consensus that all work should pay enough to live on, or a ‘living wage’”, which suggests that pro-Living Wage campaigns have the potential to win wide support, including, but not limited to, those currently paid below that level.

Fair pay also provides an opportunity to find common ground with those above Living Wage, the broad 'squeezed middle', whose pay is not only falling behind the incomes of those at the top, but also failing to benefit from rises in GDP.

More broadly than that – and despite some people's assertions – fair pay provides a means to blend fairness with economic competence. Although some level of income inequality is necessary and desirable, the UK now has such excessive levels of inequality as to be associated with reduced productivity, suppressed growth, high levels of debt, and unnecessary costs to taxpayers.

There is no shortage of areas on which fair pay campaigns could focus, from high pay at the top of public bodies like the Student Loans Company to low pay in local authorities and their contractors. This is an area in which a “community organising” approach could produce impressive support, because pay is an issue that is very important to a huge number of people.

There is a strong consensus behind the idea that pay at all levels should  - but currently does not - reflect 'due desert'. There is also wide support for the principle of 'making work pay', and an opportunity to win wide support for 'making pay work', for the mutual benefit of business, economy, taxpayers, employees and their families.


Duncan Exley is Campaigns Director of One Society, an organisation which promotes policy and practice to reduce excessive income inequalities.

For more information about One Society please visit