Citizens UK – in Somerset
Citizens UK is an organisation committed to working with local people, to hear their concerns about their community and take action to put them right. It describes itself as the “Home of Community Organising in the United Kingdom” and has been behind many successful campaigns, including being the driving force behind the introduction of the Real Living Wage (which the Methodist Church and many other employers have now adopted). It is concerned with real world issues of how society works but it is strictly non-party political.
Citizens UK has a number of branches – called Chapters – in London, Wales and many major cities across the country. And now the movement has come to the South West with the establishment of a local chapter “Citizens Somerset” which was formally launched at a Founding Assembly in Taunton in March 2019. It is the first to be set up in a mainly rural area.
The Methodist Circuit of Taunton Deane and South Sedgemoor has formally joined Citizens Somerset as a Founding Member Organisation, joining the Diocese of Bath & Wells, the United Reformed Church in Taunton and the Quakers, together with non-faith organisations like local schools and colleges and a number of committed individuals. The Circuit has taken the view that the goals of Citizens UK are very much in line with the Mission of the Methodist Church, to tackle issues of social justice and unfairness in our society and assist anybody who is affected by them.
It is early days for Citizens Somerset but the Circuit is looking forward to working with others to address issues which concern our membership. For a link to the Citizens Somerset website and to keep up to date with campaigns on the areas chosen as initial priorities, please click on the link below
Action on the Real Living Wage
Citizens Somerset chose Friday 19th November to organise an event to mark Living Wage Week this year, which marks the 20th Anniversary of the campaign to ensure that all workers are paid at a rate that matches what it actually costs to live. Unlike the Government’s legal minimum wage (now called the National Living Wage), the Real Living Wage is calculated each year by the Living Wage Foundation to reflect the cost of living. Also, it is paid to all adults while the minimum wage is not mandatory until the age of 23.
Payment of the Living Wage is not just a matter of fairness; employers who adopt the policy and become accredited for doing so, have been shown to benefit from having a more stable and motivated workforce.
Events last Friday started with an extended morning interview on Radio Somerset with Barbara Coombes from Citizens Somerset and Simon Blackburn, CEO of the Somerset Registered Care Providers Association. While payment of the Living Wage applies across all employment, Citizens Somerset has had a particular focus on the Care Sector where low wages can impact on the provision of care in both residential settings and in people’s homes.
In the afternoon some 50 people, including 30 students from King’s College, gathered at the Friends Meeting House in Taunton to mark the 20th anniversary of the campaign and to congratulate local employers who are already Living Wage Employers and those who are in the process of becoming accredited. After discussion and tea, the group walked to the post box near the Market House where the young people were pictured posting letters to local employers encouraging them to agree to pay the Real Living Wage.
Another group walked through town to the offices of Somerset West and Taunton Council who had previously committed themselves to becoming an accredited Living Wage employer. The picture shows the conversation with Councillor Smith-Roberts, Leader of the Council, who explained that while the Council already pays its own staff in line with the policy, the forthcoming shake-up of Local Government in Somerset has interrupted the work of ensuring that all contractors to the Council also meet the standard.
Despite this, we are pleased to report that Councillor Smith-Roberts confirmed her personal support to the campaign and agreed to continue meeting with Citizens Somerset about the issue. She said “While I can’t speak for the new Authority, I will ensure that the issue (of fair wages for staff and carers) is included as a pivotal part of the conversation within the investiture committee where all the present leaders across the county are planning the establishment of the new Somerset Council”.
As well as campaigning over the Living Wage, Citizens Somerset has been working with the District and County Councils and the Police and Crime Commissioner on a range of topics – making provision for homeless people, improvements to public transport, including a Wellington to Taunton cycle route, and concerns over street safety.