Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn visits Kenilworth Road
Luton Town Football Club were delighted to welcome Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell to Kenilworth Road this morning as part of their focus on the Living Wage.
Luton Town were the first English football club to pay its staff the Living Wage, so were asked by the Labour Party via the Council to provide the venue for them to announce their pledge to raise the minimum Living Wage to £10 an hour if they are elected in 2020.
It was announced earlier this month that the Government’s minimum Living Wage will rise from £7.20 to £7.50 an hour for over-25s, but as a fully-accredited National Living Wage employer, the Hatters have been paying all staff the real Living Wage – which rises to £8.45 an hour next month – since December 2014.
Mr Corbyn and Mr McDonnell were given a tour of the ground – and shown the models and plans for our proposed new stadium at Power Court – before meeting members of staff whose lives have been changed by pay rises given to them as a result of the club’s policy to help eliminate in-work poverty in the local community.
Together with Luton North MP Kelvin Hopkins, leader of Luton Borough Council, Hazel Simmons, and her deputy Sian Timoney, they were impressed by hearing how being paid the Living Wage has allowed workers to apply for mortgages to buy homes, help cover childcare costs without having to constantly look for new jobs and enjoy a better work-life balance by being paid a fair wage.
When facing the national and local media on the pitch, Mr Corbyn said: “We are here today at Luton Town Football Club because they became a Living Wage employer, and they say that since then staff retention has been better, staff morale has been better and productivity is good.
“We think it is the right thing to do because more than five million people are earning less than the minimum wage at the present time, many of those have to access in-work benefits just to make ends meet.”
He added: “We think it’s important, we think it’s affordable and we think it’s achievable – and we are launching it here today because Luton Town were the first football club in the country to introduce the Living Wage.
“We’ve just had a lovely meeting with many of the staff here who say how much better their lives have been because of it, but also how the enthusiasm and support and loyalty for the club has improved as a result of it.
“It’s very interesting that other clubs say ‘How can you afford it?’ when Luton’s response apparently is ‘How can you afford not to do it?’. Not all football clubs have a lot of money. Luton is a relatively small club which came out of administration and is obviously developing very fast and has got great aspirations.”
Hatters chief executive Gary Sweet was also interviewed, and when asked why the club felt it was important to pay staff the Living Wage, he said: “It came from our desire to try and eliminate poverty in Luton, and why would we contribute to that? It was a very important factor for our board members and our shareholders that we contribute to the community in that way.
“There is also a business element to it, and since we’ve implemented the Living Wage a couple of years ago, we’ve noticed that our staff are happier, our staff are becoming more ambitious and are doing things like getting mortgages, which previously they couldn’t have done.
“What we also find is that our retention of staff is better, so when we operate in areas like retail and catering – and on a matchday we employ a lot of people as stewards and gatemen, for example – all of those people we retain longer, so there is a little bit more loyalty.
“As a cost to the business it’s around £50,000 a year, but we see that as an investment, not a cost – and from a business perspective it’s a case of, how can we afford not to do it?”
In a general statement about the visit, the club said: “We were delighted to host Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell this morning helping to eliminate poverty as football’s first club to pay the Living Wage. Their visit wasn’t about Luton Town Football club being political but supporting a vital social challenge by proudly paying staff a living wage, not a minimum wage.
“LTFC remains apolitical. If any party leader wishes to see the Living Wage in action, changing lives, they’d be welcomed in the same way. We beg the question ‘How can an EFL League Two club afford to pay the Living Wage when so many Premier League clubs can’t? It should be policy at every Premier League Club.”