Well done Marcus Rashford; over to you Man United…

Another weekend, another government U-Turn under pressure from Marcus Rashford. But now there is another job for him.

Manchester food banks have written to executives at Manchester City and Manchester United urging them to pay their staff the Real Living Wage of £9.30 an hour. 15 Premier League clubs have not signed up to the Living Wage Foundation.

The letter stated: ‘Many of your own staff, including caterers and cleaners, are themselves struggling to put food on the table because they don’t earn the real living wage.’

United replied: ‘Given the size of the club and with such a varied workforce across a number of specialist areas, staff salaries do differ, depending on their remit. However, all permanent and temporary employees, whether engaged on a full- or part-time basis, are paid the national living wage.’

That’s not the Real Living Wage. It is less.

So that’s a firm no, then.

The National Living Wage is £8.72 if you’re over 25, £8.20 if you’re 21-24, £6.45 for 18-20 year olds and a paltry £4.55 if you’re under 18. These are appalling, shockingly low numbers. Nobody who decides on those numbers needs to live off those numbers. And in case they do not realise, the cost of living is not less if you’re 23, 20, 18 or indeed 16 than if you’re 25. Everything costs the same.

This issue isn’t just about not having enough cash to pay for a few of the nice things in life. It’s serious. Very serious. Poverty is horrible, crushing, debilitating and depressing. It is a heavy weight to climb from under. But it is often hidden from those who do not suffer it, and can be misunderstood by those who have not endured it.

It feels as though your sun has been eclipsed by the moon. It is a condition that can, for many, guarantee perpetuation, via demotivation, hopelessness, ill-health and isolation. And from those conditions, multiple other problems arise for the individual and for the society they inhabit, problems that cost more money to tackle than preventing their poverty in the first place. However, politicians have assumed, rightly or wrongly, there are more votes in kicking the poor than putting an arm around them.

There have always been those who argued that poverty is society’s much-needed threat to make the lazy go to work and retribution for those who won’t. This was never true, but now, many of the poor actually do work, but are just paid far too little. This is certainly the case at many of our wealthy football clubs, owned by wealthy people or businesses, playing in a wealthy league which hands out free money in large bags, money largely spent on the playing staff’s wages.

Of course we can argue what poverty means both in absolute and relative terms and it deserves more words than I have space to give it here, but if you’re poor, you know fine well what it means and how it works.

Condemning people to live on next to nothing benefits no-one except those who exploit low wage labour in order to enrich themselves, people such as the owners of big football clubs. Limiting the opportunities for people and their children, impoverishes all of us and the society we live in. It achieves nothing except the debasement of life itself. We shouldn’t allow our wealthy football clubs to be part of this problem when they could easily be part of the solution. If Everton, Liverpool, Crystal Palace, Chelsea, West Ham United, Dulwich Hamlet, Luton Town, FC United of Manchester and Hearts can pay a meagre £9.30 per hour, every club can do it.

This isn’t an issue that only affects Manchester and its teams and it isn’t something which should be swept under the carpet of blind tribalism. It’s not about United or City per se, it is about all clubs and all businesses who operate under the same principles of over-remunerating an elite while under-remunerating the lowest paid.

So let’s see how much this would cost Manchester United, specifically. And, again, don’t get on your tribal horse. I have to use an example, but just because I’m not using every club as an example, doesn’t mean I’m picking on your precious institution especially.

United apparently employs around 900 people. Clearly this will be a mix of part-time and full-time, employed and contracted. Let’s make a generous estimate to say they employ 500 people full-time on £8.72 per hour all of whom work 40 hours per week – this is likely a wild over-estimate on both counts, but even so, paying them £9.30 instead of £8.72 would give those 500 staff £20.80 extra per week, £1081.60 per year. Hardly a king’s ransom. Some might say it is merely the difference between f*ck all and sod all. But it is something.

However, it would cost the business of Manchester United about half a million pounds extra per year to pay those 500 people the Real Living Wage. But hey, they have an income of over £600 million. So it would slice off about 0.08% off that total.

They also have a £352 million player wage bill. So it would slice off about 0.15% off that.

Ed Woodward was paid £4,152,000 in 2017-18, he alone could pay the additional wage bill with just six weeks income.

For perspective, if you earn £100,000 per week, handing over 0.15% would reduce your wages by £150 each week. Your £5m per year would be reduced by £7500.

I do not believe that there is a single player at any football club that would begrudge a 0.15% wage cut to make sure all staff at the club get at least £9.30 per hour for their labours. Surely no executive would object, or rather, would not publicly say so.

There is no excuse for any business with this sort of income to behave in this fashion. Indeed, it is immoral that they do and no amount of one-eyed tribal loyalty should try and justify it. After all, these are people that help make the club function on a day-to-day basis. They are indispensable to the running of the operation, they oil the wheels of the machine. No matter how great the players may or may not be, there would be nowhere for them to play without the myriad workers who make the club function. They are not insignificant.

This isn’t a massive pay rise. You’re still skint on £9.30 per hour. It is a vicious, cruel and heartless regime that would actively choose – and that is what they’ve done, they have wilfully and deliberately chosen – to make already very wealthy footballers and executives 0.15% wealthier, rather than pay that money to its lowest paid staff, money that would improve their lives very modestly, but significantly. As the letter to the clubs stated:

‘It’s proven that the real living wage lifts families out of poverty – that’s why Greater Manchester Citizens is calling on our two successful and wealthy football clubs to become living wage accredited.’

What sort of ghouls would choose to make very rich people a little more rich instead of making poor people a little less poor? Only a monster would make that choice, and yet, it is a choice that has been made.

It must be born out of a world view which sees the poor as worthless and undeserving of even £20 more per week. Better to give that money to the successful, they deserve it. That must be how they think. I do not believe that anyone who has the power to change this policy could stand in front of any of us, here and now, and justify their choice.

That poverty wages are commonplace and widespread may have reduced the shock value of the wealthy underpaying the poor, but it remains appalling and unjust. Oh and by the way, their frugality will end up costing you and me money, via state-funded welfare payments to top up low wages.

So in a very real way, we are subsidizing the likes of the Glazers’ businesses while they graze on the ever more lush pastures of obscene wealth.

It can’t be right. It isn’t right and it cannot stand scrutiny in the court of public opinion.

Someone give Marcus a call, please.

John Nicholson